We spend so much time running around this time of year in search of the perfect gifts. All of us have at least someone in our lives who we label as the impossible one for whom to buy the right gift. The idea of gift giving at Christmas time stems from the story of the wisemen bringing gifts to Jesus. Yet Jesus was actually the greatest gift to humanity. Jesus is also the perfect gift that everyone needs and fits everyone on our list. This year, receive the gift of Jesus and offer the gift to others.
Read Mark 12:33
As we begin the season of Advent, we focus upon preparing to receive our Christ and King. Scripture tells us that what God considers the greatest offering is our very selves. When we think about what we might offer to our coming Christ, the offering which our Lord deserves is our love and the life choices which we make. Consider what Christmas offering you may choose to make this season as you listen to this song by Casting Crowns.
1 May God be gracious to us and bless us
and make his face shine on us—[b]
2 so that your ways may be known on earth,
your salvation among all nations.
3 May the peoples praise you, God;
may all the peoples praise you.
4 May the nations be glad and sing for joy,
for you rule the peoples with equity
and guide the nations of the earth.
5 May the peoples praise you, God;
may all the peoples praise you.
6 The land yields its harvest;Psalm 67 (NIV)
God, our God, blesses us.
7 May God bless us still,
so that all the ends of the earth will fear him.
We are quickly approaching our Christmas celebration and the end of another year. Many people have been sending greetings to one another. Usually these greetings communicate a desire for the receiver to have a merry Christmas and a blessed new year. When people think about what would make a merry Christmas, they may consider time spent with family and friends. The stronger thought which enters many minds is the hope to receive just the right gifts. Similarly, a blessed new year conjures thoughts of no problems, being prosperous, and maintaining positive physical and financial health. What truly is a merry Christmas and a blessed new year?
The writer of this psalm speaks of blessings from the Lord. The psalm begins with a familiar benediction, a hope that God will be gracious, will provide blessings, and be present. The reason for this request is so that the Lord’s ways will become known. Then the requests continue with a focus on the praise of God. Concluding the psalm is an acknowledgement of what the Lord has already provided with an additional request that God continues to bless the people.
Reading this psalm, it almost appears like a Christmas request list from a group of believers. A list given to God instead of Santa Claus. There is nothing here which would be misaligned with the hopes of all of God’s children. Yet I am stopped in my thoughts by a set of nagging questions…
- What am I doing to make this wish list a reality?
- How am I seeking God’s face?
- In what ways do I encourage others to praise the Lord?
- Am I showing God gratitude for the blessings already given?
Maybe these questions might be yours as well. Take a moment to ponder these questions. How do you respond? Are there changes you may need to make? What do your Christmas requests to God look like? How are you working to fulfill those requests?
Those within the Christian faith (and those who are not) have just celebrated the holiday of Easter. For Christians, this celebration is one which remembers the resurrection of Jesus, the Christ. This day marks the end of a week which has become known as Holy Week. Holy Week recalls significant events Including:
- Jesus’ arrival to Jerusalem which turns into a procession with palm branches
- Jesus’ final meal which Jesus has with the closest of his disciples
- Jesus’ arrest by the temple guards, his “trials” before the religious leader
- Jesus’ appearances before Pilate and Herod
- Jesus’ crucifixion and death
- Jesus’ body being placed in a tomb
For non-Christians, this celebration focuses solely on the Easter Bunny, hiding Easter eggs and all types of sweets and candies. Christians also take part in these fun activities. Our Jewish brothers and sisters also celebrate Passover which is significant in the Christian history as well.
The other significant celebration which is shared by Christians and non-Christians is Christmas. The Christian focus is on the incarnation of God in Jesus. Non-Christians focus on Santa Claus. Jews celebrate Hanukkah around the same time as well. A majority share in the giving of gifts, festive decorations, Santa Claus, and family gatherings.
As a Christian leader, I have wrestled with how our traditions and actions deal with both of these holidays which are significant celebrations of events in our faith. I would argue that Christmas appears to be much more important to us than Easter. Looking at the preparation, the amount of gatherings, the type of decorating, and the amount of money we spend on Christmas, our behaviors give this indication.
On an emotional level, I get it. Celebrating a birth is much more uplifting and exciting than acknowledging a torturous death followed by the foreign concept of a full, bodily resurrection. The time of the year may also have some influence. Christmas is celebrated around the winter solstice which is a very dark, and in many parts a very cold, time of year. We all need something to lift our spirits and give us hope. Easter is celebrated in the early part of spring when we are seeing new life and warming temperatures, so we already are experiencing a renewal of hope.
On a theological level, I think the emphasis is backwards. While the incarnation of God is truly amazing and unique to Christianity, and while birth has to be necessary in Jesus’ story before the events around Easter can even happen, the impact of Jesus’ death and resurrection has much greater significance in our faith, life, understanding of God, and life after death. Without Easter, Christmas would be just a celebration of another human birth. Easter gives us the basis of the Christian faith. The message of Easter will be what Peter proclaims during the Jewish Festival of Passover which is considered the birth of the Christian faith. The message of Easter is an outward demonstration of the love and grace which only God could provide.
I realize that economic and traditional behaviors will not be altered by my thoughts here. I can only hope that for those who acknowledge their belief in the risen Jesus, the Christ, it will cause all to pause and examine the behaviors. Maybe even work to bring the level of our Easter celebrations up to the minimum of our Christmas celebrations.
Another Christmas Eve has arrived. This is one night that always carries significant memories for me. We had a lot of traditions in my family, Christmas Eve has always been full of them for me. When I was younger, it meant gathering with my Dad’s side of the family. We would eat a large meal, exchange gifts and spend the night playing while the adults talked and laughed. One specific year there was even a visit from Santa Claus. All the kids were herded into my bedroom. We were told that we were not to look out of any windows no matter what. Of course, that only encouraged us to try our best but parents always seemed to interfere with our attempts. Soon there was a knock on the front door, and we were allowed out of the room. In walked Santa Claus who proceeded to give us each a goodie bag and remind us to get to sleep quickly tonight, so he could return with our presents.
Attending worship services on Christmas Eve also has important memories and traditions for me. While living with my parents, our congregation only worshiped at 11:00pm on Christmas Eve. We would gather in a darkened sanctuary where we would sing Christmas carols interspersed with readings of Scripture. Holy Communion was celebrated during the service. We would close the service by singing Silent Night while we lit handheld candles. When it was time to leave it would be midnight, or shortly after, and we would wish each other Merry Christmas. I always walked out of the church and searched the night sky for the Christmas star. Some years there would be snow falling as well.
After leaving worship, we would return home. My parents would allow me to open one gift before going to bed. Of course, I was steered away from anything real significant. I would open my gift and then prepare the plate of cookies and a glass of milk for Santa. Then I would head off to bed with the intention of staying awake, so I heard the sleigh bells on Santa’s sleigh. I was never successful in hearing those sleigh bells but would drift off to sleep thinking of what I heard at worship and what would await me in the morning.
This year is a year of new beginnings with Christmas Eve. Having moved since last Christmas and now in our new home for good, we are starting over. We are establishing some new traditions while we hold on to a few from our past. A worship service nearby will be our plans for this evening. While we have never attended worship with this congregation, we are confident that we will be reminded of God’s gift of love. I am sure that memories from the past will enter my thoughts.
Thinking about the significance of Christmas Eve in my life, I am reminded that it is in the celebration of the incarnation of God that I first encountered the depth of love God has for me and all creation. The idea that I am loved so much leading God to take human form so that I could relate to God in a way that makes sense to me is amazing.
I hope all of you have a meaningful and Spirit-filled Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.