Tag Archives: Christmas

Waiting for God During Your Silent Night

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When we think of Christmas, it is easy to imagine the scene of Jesus’s arrival as a joyous time for all involved. Instead, history shows us that Israel was a powder keg and Jesus was in many ways a match to light it.

Silent, But Not Calm

Over two thousand years ago, the Roman Empire firmly in control of most of the known world, Israel sat quietly–at least on the surface.  Underneath the veneer of subservience, Israel seethed with regret, with holy aspirations, and with a tiny glimmer of hope. Their hope was for the renewed glory of Israel. They had had a taste when they miraculously threw off the yoke of Syrian captivity under the Seleucids.  Their own internal conflicts, however, led them once again under the power of another. Unable to settle their own claims to leadership, they actually invited the Romans in to restore order. They did, by taking control of Jerusalem in 63 B.C. about fifty-seven years before Jesus’s birth.

Added to this politically tumultuous time was the fact that there had been no prophetic voice since the prophet Malachi almost four hundred years prior. Realizing that they had no hope of freedom on their own, they began to hope for the Messiah to rescue them. A lay group of men who wanted to purify themselves by following the Law of God perfectly emerged to help hasten the day.  These men were the Pharisees.

The Silence Broken

It is in this climate of tension that John’s voice first emerged.  He urged repentance and spoke of one to come of whom John was not worthy to untie the straps of his sandals (John 1:27 NLT). Although he looked strange and was not a part of the organized religion of the day, people flocked to hear him speak. They were moved by the power of his words and the power behind his words.

Though Jesus and John were cousins, we can assume they had no meeting until the day Jesus came to be baptized, as John had been raised in the desert by the Essenes. So when John sees Jesus for the first time, he prophecies, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29 NLT).  The hoped-for Messiah had arrived, but He was not what they thought. He didn’t come to liberate them from their current external bondage but to liberate them from their internal bondage.

Read the rest here.

Grumpy Old Men and Hallmark Christmas Movies: Exhausted by Change

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When I was a kid, I used to be perplexed by what I considered the stodginess of elderly people. They seemed desperate to maintain their routines, angry even. This type of character is captured comically in Disney’s Up and beautifully in Frederick Bachman’s A Man Called Ove. In both stories, the main character, a man, follows a strict routine every day. Bachman describes Ove :

Every morning for the almost four decades they had lived in this house, Ove had put on the coffee percolator, using exactly the same amount of coffee as on any other morning, and then drank a cup with his wife.

After this routine would come his daily inspection of his neighborhood and the general maintenance of his home. He was diligent and hard-working, but he was also bitter. What is introduced initially as a grumpy old man, the likes of which we’ve all encountered, is then slowly revealed to us to be a man who has suffered greatly and who uses the routine to bring comfort into his life. Backman reveals the man he used to be  and why he changed, and we are left loving him instead of hating him. To be sure, like Disney’s Carl, both men have an encounter with love that helps them place their hope in something else, but learning their backstory immediately gives us sympathy for these characters.

Hallmark Christmas Movies Value Tradition

Hallmark Christmas movies also play with the same theme–tradition brings comfort. A base storyline for many Hallmark Christmas movies is a woman or man leaving the city to return to their hometown for Christmas. They are drawn in by the familiar traditions of small-town Christmas and see that this is the answer to the longing they feel within. It is in the familiar routines of home that they find themselves and find peace. I can think of three or four movies already with this theme.

I’ve asked myself why these movies appeal to me–I’m an English teacher after all. I used to make fun of people who watched these movies. Despite this, about two or three years ago, I felt an urge to start watching them, and now I’m hooked. The truth is I was going through a difficult time, and I felt comfort in watching these predictable storylines.

I reveled in beautiful Christmas scenes, a quickly resolved romantic crisis, and the sense of belonging somewhere that the characters experienced. As I age, I see this need articulated more clearly. I look back over my life and see a blur of experience, and I feel bewildered. I’ve never lived anywhere longer than five years, and this rootlessness haunts me. I long, like Ove, who lives in one house for forty years, to know a place. Though Backman is talking metaphorically about a relationship, his comparison haunts me:

Then over the years the walls become weathered, the wood splinters here and there,and you start to love that house not so much because of all its perfections, but rather for its imperfections. You get to know all the nooks and crannies. How to avoid getting the key caught in the lock when it’s cold outside. Which of the floorboards flex slightly when one steps on them or exactly how to open the wardrobe doors without them creaking. These are the little secrets that make it your home.

As I feel my mortality, I need there to be places that I know intimately and where my imprint has been worn into it. My pushback from the realization that I am here so temporarily is to connect. Tradition and routine seem to be an easy way to do this.

Tradition Is An Invitation

Tradition invites me into a history that reaches further back than me and will extend beyond me. Participating in tradition invites me into an inner circle, giving me a connection to those around me. It is also a protection from the excessive change around me.

When I ponder the characters of Ove and Carl, and even many in my Hallmark Christmas movies, they all seek peace in the midst of change. We sympathize with them because we too are victims of the capriciousness of time. I keep waiting to finally “arrive” in my life the way it’s supposed to be, but I am cruelly tricked by the continued change. My body changes, my children change, my job changes–all the while I want to yell for it to stop for a minute, so I can catch my breath.

My response is to dig in and hold on, find a place to nail me down, so I won’t be swept away with the tide. However, we all know this won’t work. My heart cries out for comfort though and promises bitterness if I don’t deliver.

I don’t think this longing for routine is wrong–I think in many ways it is the necessity of life. There are many routines I cannot avoid–I must eat every day, breathe every moment, drink and sleep. The danger comes when I decide what these routines must be in order for me to feel safe.

Only God Provides What We Need

Like Ove and Carl, we all need to release the tight-fisted hold we have on the routines of life in order to allow God to step in and do His redeeming work. Love alone is powerful enough to unclench my fist. I cannot stop the tide that flows ever onward pushing me towards my end; however, I can choose to trust the One who controls the tide. When I realize that there are things and people that are more important than my comfort, I can allow traditions and routine to take their proper place in my life, as a stabilizer but not my foundation.

There is no proper defense against the rush of life, except to lose ourselves in the eternal God. He is the one who goes before us, providing a home that cannot be taken from us (John 14:3). Then, we will be able to fully enjoy the peace Christ offers when He says, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid” (John 14:27). Our decaying world gives and takes back–with God it is not so. We are growing into his peace and into our new homes that await us. 

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

Christmas Waiting

It’s hard to wait. Right now, as I write this, I can think of three big things that I’m waiting for. I don’t like it. Everything within me wants to twist and lurch about in the reins, anything to feel like I’m moving closer to my goal.

But that isn’t the way of God. Our God, so slow and methodical, plods away, patiently working out the details of our salvation. Me, a tiny speck and no more, bolts around, believing I’m actually accomplishing something.

Christmas, every year, is a reminder to wait. For almost a solid month, we begin the process of celebrating Christmas Day. We decorate, we shop, we go to parties—everything leading forward to the day.

This advent waiting is practice for the bigger waiting of our lives. We are waiting for the day that creation groans for—the day of full redemption of our bodies and souls. All that has been broken will be made new, the lion will lay down with the lamb.

So we wait, not as one without hope, but as one who has been invited to the best celebration ever. We will get ourselves ready and patiently prepare because even Christmas has nothing on this.

The Gift of Transformation

Many of you are aware that some of our cherished Christmas symbols (like the tree and the wreath) were originally a part of the pagan festival celebrated on December 25th. Instead of shunning these symbols, the early church adopted and transformed their meanings. No longer do they hold any hint of paganism to us–now the tree represents sacrificial life and the wreath the eternality of God’s love.
This is God’s great business–transformation! He takes all the twisting of His glorious will and instead of being defeated (as though that were possible), He weaves a new image of grace upon grace and hope where we think hope would be impossible.
Let’s learn from the early Church and our Lord! Whatever is thrown at you, no matter how evil or hurtful, do the beautiful work of transformation by applying the truth of the Gospel. In this way, the message of Christ’s redeeming work will be visually displayed in our lives.

The Christmas Light

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I’m a sucker for Christmas movies. Every year, the day after Thanksgiving our family pulls out the well-known Christmas movies such as Polar Express, Elf, and The Grinch Who Stole Christmas.  Surprisingly, these Christmas movies and others dabble in issues of faith, hope, and deeper meaning within ritual.  However, each of them falls short of the true hope found in Christmas.  Here we see the hint of an unfulfilled desire–the desire to believe in something pure and good and undefiled by the greediness of man.  Perhaps the problem is that our own Christmas promise is not articulated in a way that speaks to this hope–we do not adequately express the anticipation of the season.  Instead, our Christmas message is a checking off of the list of nativity events, stripped of the powerful context of human need.

We enjoy Christmas movies because they have an aroma of the supernatural despite being entrenched in the daily quagmire of life.  We are offered a taste of the divine through our rituals and family celebrations.  The phrase “peace on Earth and goodwill towards man” fills us with a longing for a world where dreams come true and the hurt and pain of life are erased.  This longing is real, and it is the place where we can truly begin to consider the incarnation of Christ.  

It Begins With Longing

Before we can offer the great news of God becoming man, we must depict the longing we all have for something perfect.  Christmas is an excellent time to do this!  With Christmas around the corner, we all have a list of things we would like to own (be honest).  We imagine the perfect Christmas day spent with family or friends, or we mourn what we know cannot be.  In every hope, there is a longing and an unmet desire.  What if we extended that longing to our world entire?  What would be the perfect world?  What would it look like and how would people act?  We might imagine the things that would happen in order to create a place of beauty and peace.  Let’s not stop there–what about ourselves? What would it take to make us be the people we wish we could be?  What would change to make us people of peace and joy?

It is in this moment that true longing is awakened because we understand that the change we crave is not just for the world, but it is for us.  It is here that the mystery and glory of the incarnation come to us, for now, we can see Christmas is not about what happens out there–it is very much about what happens within us.  

Light in the Darkness

To imagine this visually, I want us to picture a world cloaked in darkness–a darkness so deep that you cannot even see your hand in front of you. To borrow Byron’s description from his apocalyptic poem “Darkness”:

The bright sun was extinguish’d, and the stars

Did wander darkling in the eternal space,

Rayless, and pathless, and the icy earth

Swung blind and blackening in the moonless air;

Now imagine in this infinite darkness, a spark of light.  Consider how overwhelming this tiny light would be in a sea of darkness.  What if this light grew and grew until all was like day?  How glorious would that be?  How awe-inspiring?

When God created the world, darkness was over the face of the deep.  He spoke “Let there be light” and the light burst into existence.  C.S. Lewis captures this in Magician’s Nephew when describing the creation of Narnia:

The second wonder was that the blackness overhead, all at once, was blazing with stars.  They didn’t come out gently one by one, as they do on a summer evening. One moment there had been nothing but darkness; next moment a thousand, thousand points of light leaped out–single stars, constellations, and planets, brighter and bigger than any in our world.

This was not the last time such light was to break into the world.  Instead, John draws a parallel between this momentous occasion in history and Christ’s birth.  “In him was life, and the life was the light of men.  The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” (John 1:4-5 ESV).

A Reminder Every Day

Every morning when the sun rises to dispel the darkness, we are invited to once again consider the impact light makes in our world.  God began everything with the beautiful display of created light and then comes Himself as light incarnate to a world in darkness.  The psalmist recognizes this and states in Psalm 130:6, “my soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen for the morning, more than the watchmen for the morning.” They wait for the morning because the morning is a time of hope and a reminder that they have survived the night.

On Christmas day over two thousand years ago, the Son arose and brought with him a promise of peace and safety.  His light still shines for those who have eyes to see. This Christmas, consider the light.  As you gaze on your tree and your homes adorned with the living example of light bringing beauty and surprise in the darkness, consider that the light has come. Isaiah prophesies this event several hundreds of years prior when he says: “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them a light has shone.” (Isaiah 9: 2 ESV)

Let this thought help us anticipate the wonder of Christmas morning when we celebrate the true Christmas light that is still shining.