Merry Christmas!

And so the day we have long anticipated is here! Christ is born, and born again in our hearts. Take a moment in your busy day to dwell on that.

What does Jesus mean to you?

What is joy?

What message will you carry from this day into tomorrow?

Isaiah 9 (New International Version)

The people walking in darkness
    have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of deep darkness
    a light has dawned.
You have enlarged the nation
    and increased their joy;
they rejoice before you
    as people rejoice at the harvest,
as warriors rejoice
    when dividing the plunder.

For to us a child is born,
    to us a son is given,
    and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
    Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

Of the greatness of his government and peace
    there will be no end.
He will reign on David’s throne
    and over his kingdom,
establishing and upholding it
    with justice and righteousness
    from that time on and forever.
The zeal of the Lord Almighty
    will accomplish this.

May peace reign in your home and heart today, and may angel-songs fill the air. Merry Christmas!

A Light Has Dawned by Karen Warlitner

Behold!

I am hoping that you have a plan to worship tonight. There are so many online options! Even with pandemic restrictions, everyone should be able to enter into a place of adoration. The invitation is “O Come, Let Us Adore Him!” And so we do.

For me, there is only one way to tell the Christmas story. It has to be Luke 2. This is a reflection of my childhood, growing up in the Gibbsboro United Methodist church and hearing it read every Christmas Eve. Or it could come from my love of Charlie Brown and the Peanuts gang’s Christmas special, where Linus solemnly reads it in his pure, innocent voice.

One of my fondest memories of my childhood church is when I was in 5th grade, the pastor asked me to read this scripture on Christmas Eve. I was so honored and humbled. I practiced and practiced, and was ready when the time came. Little did either of us realize in the moment that it would not be my last time in a Methodist pulpit! Thank you, Rev. Davis, for giving me my start.

Luke 2 (New King James Version)

2 And it came to pass in those days that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This census first took place while Quirinius was governing Syria. So all went to be registered, everyone to his own city.

Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed wife, who was with child. So it was, that while they were there, the days were completed for her to be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.

Glory in the Highest

Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid. 10 Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. 11 For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.”

13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying:

14 “Glory to God in the highest,
And on earth peace, goodwill[e] toward men!”

15 So it was, when the angels had gone away from them into heaven, that the shepherds said to one another, “Let us now go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has come to pass, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 And they came with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the Babe lying in a manger. 17 Now when they had seen Him, they made widely known the saying which was told them concerning this Child. 18 And all those who heard it marveled at those things which were told them by the shepherds. 19 But Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart. 20 Then the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told them.

And on earth, peace.

And on earth, goodwill toward all.

May the Christ Child reign in your heart tonight.

And to All, a Good Night by Karen Warlitner

The Why of Christmas

Have you ever found yourself doing something over and over, and not even knowing why? I remember reading a sermon illustration many years ago about a young wife who was preparing her first Christmas dinner for her new husband. She took a beautiful, large, honeyed ham and promptly cut both ends off. Then she placed it in her roasting pan, covered it with foil, and put it in the oven.

Her husband watched this with interest. “Why do you cut the ends off?” he asked. She hesitated for a moment, and then replied, “I’m not sure. It’s the way my mother always did it.” Finally, her curiosity got the better of her and she called her mother and asked why they always cut the ends off of the ham. Did it help it cook better? Did it add to the flavor? Did they prefer the ends to be crispy?

Her mother laughed and replied, “Oh, none of those reasons. I had to cut the ends off because my pan was always too small to fit the whole thing.”

Sometimes it helps to know the why.

We have talked a lot about the “who” of Christmas, the “where” of Christmas, the “how” of Christmas, and even the “what” of Christmas. Did you ever think about the “why?”

Titus 3 (Contemporary English Version)

God our Savior showed us
    how good and kind he is.
He saved us because
    of his mercy,
and not because
of any good things
    that we have done.

This passage helps us to uncover why Jesus was born. He came to save us because he is good, kind, and filled with mercy. But most importantly, he came to save us because we could not save ourselves. We are saved by grace through faith, and not by ANYTHING we can do on our own.

Do you get that? You can’t be “good enough.” Thankfully, that also means that you can be “bad enough” to not qualify for God’s grace. You can’t earn it or be ineligible to receive it….thanks be to God for that.

God washed us by the power
    of the Holy Spirit.
He gave us new birth
    and a fresh beginning.
God sent Jesus Christ
our Savior
    to give us his Spirit.

Jesus treated us much better
    than we deserve.
He made us acceptable to God
and gave us the hope
    of eternal life.

Why was Jesus born on that first Christmas? To make us acceptable to God and to give us hope for eternal life. He cleanses us of our sin and gives us new birth through water and the spirit.

The best part of it all is that we’ve been given something so much better than we deserve. Thanks be to God!

Jesus is the Light of the World by Cheryl Lynn Smith

How Beautiful

Last week I had the extraordinary opportunity to film a children’s sermon in a sheep pasture, surrounded by live sheep. This is a first for ya girl. It was a beautiful and startling experience. The plan was for me to sit on a chair in the middle of the open field and read a little story that I had written about Jesus’ birth as told from the perspective of the animals at the manger.

Cue the sheep!

So the kind sheep handler positioned the flock just off camera and was ready to spread out their feed around my chair. The idea was that when the camera rolled, they would be surrounding me as I read, peacefully eating at my feet. It almost went like that. Almost.

The sheep were apparently excited by my reading, which of course included a perspective from one of their own…a sheep named Shirley…who, it turned out, speaks with a British accent for some reason. Or maybe it was the snack being strewn about. In any case, when the camera rolled and the feed was distributed, they charged hard…so hard that my camera girl almost got sideswiped. And then as soon as the snack was gone, so were the sheep. I was alone in the pasture. Two of them eventually returned to give me the side-eye, but that was it.

When I returned home, my dog went nuts. Apparently the sheep residue that I brought in on my shoes was quite the treat for her overactive nose. How beautiful are the feet that announce the good news of the sheep pasture!

In our passage today, the prophet Isaiah raises up the beauty of the messengers who bring good news. The Messiah is coming! Lift up your voices and sing:

Isaiah 52 (New Revised Standard Version)

How beautiful upon the mountains
    are the feet of the messenger who announces peace,
who brings good news,
    who announces salvation,
    who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.”

Listen! Your sentinels lift up their voices,
    together they sing for joy;
for in plain sight they see
    the return of the Lord to Zion.
Break forth together into singing,
    you ruins of Jerusalem;
for the Lord has comforted his people,
    he has redeemed Jerusalem.

Jesus came to redeem his people….ALL his people. With the birth of the Messiah, the entire world saw the salvation of God in one holy birth. The message of peace that Jesus brought is a message of hope for the world, and that message is as beautiful today as it was the very first time when cows, donkeys, and fleeting sheep heard it in a little town called Bethlehem.

10 The Lord has bared his holy arm
    before the eyes of all the nations;
and all the ends of the earth shall see
    the salvation of our God.

And the glory of the Lord was revealed! So go and share the good news….your God reigns.

My Girl Shirl Photo by Island Farm

December Birthdays

Raise your hand if you are among the unfortunate ones who have a December birthday. Those of you born in the other eleven months don’t have a clue. Who else gets “combination birthday/Christmas presents?” Nope, that is reserved for us December babies. I can give you a list of such combo-presents: every bike I ever received, a fancy cowgirl outfit (with boots), a black and white TV for my teenage bedroom….yes, my parents would do the combo thing when they were debating a somewhat expensive present that they were struggling to afford. Bless them!!

On the other hand, I do share a birthday with Walt Disney. I found that out when I was in High School, and have always loved it. It makes me happy to share a birthday with a man of his creative genius and genuine expertise in story telling. Happy birthday to us, Walt!

The most important birthday in December of course is Jesus’ birthday. I had a childhood practice of either staying up past midnight on Christmas Eve or waking up early on Christmas morning to sing Happy Birthday to Jesus before the day began. I would look out the window from my bed at 5 Chatham Rd. and see the street light shining in the dark, and sing to baby Jesus. More often than not, I could see the snow falling on Christmas morning in that light, and snow on Christmas was EVERYTHING. This is possibly the only benefit of growing up in New Jersey.

I wonder what Christmas would look like if we had kept it as just a birthday party for Jesus, instead of the giftpalooza-partypalooza-spendtoomuchpalooza-shoptillyoudroppalooza that it has become. Imagine it: we would wake up, talk about how wonderful Jesus is, plan a nice meal, bake a birthday cake, have the celebration, blow out the candles, and call it a day. And it would truly be just about him.

How can we make Christmas just about Jesus again?

First, we can care about the things that he cares about. The widow, the orphan, the children crying for their parents at our country’s border…he cares about that. Giving to the needy and sharing our abundance is something he cares about. He cares about the people who are ill, in hospital beds, or nursing homes. He cares about things that are lost: souls, marriages, teenagers, car keys, runaway pets, and your will to resist temptation. He cares about the planet his father created. He cares about YOU.

Micah 6:8 Amplified Bible (AMP)

8 He has told you, O man, what is good;

And what does the Lord require of you

Except to be just, and to love and to diligently practice kindness (compassion),

And to walk humbly with your God, setting aside any overblown sense of

importance or self-righteousness?

This Christmas, let us focus on getting Jesus the perfect birthday present. Let us dive deep into his word and grow closer in our relationship with him. Let us stand up for justice, diligently practice kindness, love one another, offer compassion, and be humble before him. Or, as Christina Rossetti once wrote:

What can I give Him,

Poor as I am?

If I were a Shepherd

I would bring a lamb;

If I were a Wise Man

I would do my part,

Yet what I can I give Him,

Give my heart. (In the Bleak Midwinter)

Happy Birthday, Jesus!

Mountain Snow by Mary Anne Mong Cramer.