Yesterday at lunch, we girls chatted about what traditions we want to begin with our kids at Christmas, in addition to family memories we already enjoy with our parents. My excitement was reinforced by listening to this interview of Noël Piper about her book Treasuring God in Our Traditions. Noël defines a tradition as “a planned habit with significance”—the “significance” of course being the truth of what God has done through sending His Son. Listen to this brief but inspiring interview and you will approach Christmas with renewed eagerness to continue or inaugurate traditions that truly honor and celebrate Christ.
Sorry for the late post! The girls were out exchanging Christmas gifts today. Lots of gabbing and laughing. So much fun. Thanks to our hubbys for watching the kiddos. Here’s a quick pic. More Christmas talk tomorrow…
Our friend Kim sent us this holiday Friday Funny last year…but it was so cute, I had to post it again:
My grandmother was a school teacher and my grandfather
was a dairy farmer. Well, one day the local Santa Claus was sick and
couldn’t go to the school to do his annual “Santa Sitting” so they
called my grandfather. Although he was always busy on the farm, he was
the only man in town available at such short notice for such a crisis
as this. My grandfather got the call, left his barns immediately,
donned the Santa suit, and greeted each child on his lap. The next day
a little girl said to my grandmother, “Oh, Mrs. Robinson, yesterday we
saw the REAL Santa Claus.” To which my grandmother replied, “Well, are
you sure? There are many helpers to Santa.” And the little girl
puffed out her chest and replied with great confidence, “I’m absolutely
sure, Mrs. Robinson, I could smell the reindeer!”
My 93 year old grandmother died this past summer….but none of us will ever forget her, or this silly tale!
Only eleven days until Christmas! Nicole for the girls
“Is it going to be Christmas soon?” Jack began asking—in the middle of November. He could hardly contain himself when they began to set up the Christmas tree stand at the empty lot down the street, or when the grocery store began selling lights and wrapping paper. But mostly, he had presents in his eyes. “Is Auntie Susie going to give me presents? When is Liam going to give Jack presents?”
Perceptive parents that we are, Steve and I soon realized Christmas was revealing some serious greed in our son’s life. And it wasn’t even Thanksgiving yet.
So one morning at breakfast Steve helped Jack make a Christmas list—of presents he wanted to give at Christmas. Because, “What’s better?” he began to catechize Jack, “To give presents or to get presents?” A rhetorical question that Jack didn’t answer correctly the first time. But he’s got it now.
Here is Jack’s first official Christmas List—of gifts he wants to give:
**Spoiler alert for Whitacre family—do not read past this point!**
Pops – Dog food for Bailey (just what he’s always wanted!) Mimi – A pan (I think he means a frying pan for making him eggs in) Auntie Susie – a ball (to play with him?) Auntie Emmy – a purple phone (not sure where this is coming from) Daddy – a red hat (go Maryland!) Mommy – Pink and blue polka dot pajamas (think Dr. Seuss here?) Tori – a friend named Kaiya (so sweet—the daughter of friends, born shortly after Tori)
Next week we’ll take Jack to the Dollar Store or Target to help him buy gifts for the Whitacre family. We pick names for the Mahaneys, but we also have a small extra gift for each of his cousins, to reinforce the giving is better theme.
On Christmas Eve we plan to watch the Charlie Brown Christmas special and help him wrap his gifts for everyone and put them under the tree. We hope that at least some of the Christmas morning excitement will be giving presents to the family. Steve and I plan to make a big deal out of it anyway.
A little lesson. The older he gets, the more opportunities we’ll have to help him fight greed and give to others—especially those in need. Most of all, we hope that giving gifts will point him to our Savior who, “love us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (Eph. 5:2, emphasis mine).
Maybe you are not grieving a great loss this Christmas. But Christmastime is a milestone of “a hope deferred.” Maybe you are still single. Or your marriage is still difficult. Or family relationships still haven’t been restored. Or you still haven’t realized a life-long goal.
Carolyn McCulley identifies with this challenge:
“When you have a hope deferred, the holidays can be a bittersweet time. Unbidden emotions—grief, confusion, self-pity, sadness—can suddenly wash over you without warning. The holiday season can be like a landmark in time—“wasn’t I here in exactly the same situation last year?”—commemorating the creep of time. That’s the bitter part, but there is also the sweet part if we stand like a sentinel and look for it.”
As we wrote about joy last week, we were also mindful that there are many people who experience grief and sadness during the Christmas season. My sister-in-law Sharon is one of them. Today we want to reprint some thoughts she shared with us several years ago. Here is how I first introduced Sharon to the girltalk audience:
On July 8, 2003 Sharon lost Dave, her husband of 32 years, to a brain tumor. We all desperately miss Dave’s joy, his impeccable sense of humor, his servant’s heart, and his delicious cooking. However, the intense grief that Sharon and her five children have experienced these past two and a half years is a testimony to the love they had for Dave, and his love for them
And yet, through this unimaginable hardship, Sharon’s faith in God’s sovereignty, wisdom, and goodness has remained strong. She has truly grieved with hope. While not a day goes by that she does not desperately miss “Her Bud” (as she and Dave would call each other) she displays a selfless strength in serving others that only comes from knowing Jesus Christ.
For this reason, we asked Sharon to share about both the pain, but more importantly the comfort she experiences at Christmastime. We pray her thoughts will provide hope to those of you who have lost a loved one. And for the rest of us, may we extend discerning care to those we know who are grieving this Christmas.
I believe there is only one answer to the question of how I experience God’s comfort at Christmastime, and that is for me to be on my knees basking in and staying grounded in the Word of God. His words touch my heart and soul, as he is the ultimate comforter. And from him come all other forms of comfort, as well.
Of course, snags are everywhere this time of year. If you’ve ever driven through the mountains, you’ve probably seen signs that read, “Beware of falling rocks.” For me as a widow, the holidays can be full of “falling rocks” in the form of that invitation or Christmas card addressed to only one name, traditions that are no longer an option, having to pass by the men’s department no longer looking for that annual sweater or tie, or even getting a whiff of my husband’s favorite cologne in the crowds of shoppers. Like a thorn on a rose pricks the finger, these reminders of a love lost prick my fragile, already bleeding heart. The challenge becomes surfacing from the pain of the past and wanting to live joyfully in the present with a hope for the future.
Although I have yet to get through the season without heartache and tears, and this will be my third Christmas without my husband, my Lord is faithful to supply the needed comfort. I should add here that I must choose to be comforted, as the temptation can be to fall into the sin of self-pity. If you are a widow, you know you can feel the pain of loneliness even when you’re in a group—even a group of family and friends. Those who help me to surface from the pain are not afraid of my sudden tears that may spill over in an instant unexpectedly, as they realize that may be the only language I can speak at the moment. They respect my need to talk at length about my current grief, or my desire not to talk at all. They give me much-appreciated hugs and tell me they care. They sometimes share remembrances of my husband that make me smile through the tears, knowing the memories may cause pain but are certainly treasured. Comfort has also come in the form of e-mails and phone calls and cards, all with words of love and encouragement. This past Sunday, I was comforted by a word shared during worship from one of the pastors with an encouragement for widows and single parents.
I think it is important to note here that we should not assume someone is no longer grieving, or not grieving as much, because a number of years have passed. I am among those who, before I became a widow, mistakenly thought that the one-year anniversary marked the end of the grieving process, that somehow things became easier and got back to “normal.” Where did that idea come from? That’s not accurate. I believe grieving is actually a gift, a good and necessary gift, a process, and a journey that, because of the depth of our love, may last until I see my Bud again. And, yes, the severity of my grieving is increased during the holidays. But as I respond to the pain and embrace with gratefulness the comforts he sends, I learn endurance and perseverance; and I realize that everything is part of the process of sanctification. And I am overwhelmed—not by my grief—but by his love for me.
This quote by J.I. Packer provides a hint about the content:
“Justification is the primary blessing [of the gospel] because it meets our primary spiritual need. We all stand by nature under God’s judgment; his law condemns us; guilt gnaws at us, making us restless and miserable, and in our lucid moments afraid; we have no peace in ourselves because we have no peace with our Maker. So we need the forgiveness of our sins, and assurance of a restored relationship with God, more than we need anything else in the world…To be right with God the Judge is a great thing, but ________ is greater.”
What could be greater than justification? Listen and find out.
These helpful ideas for holiday evangelism were on the back of our church bulletin yesterday. May they inspire and equip us to reach out to others…
Invest this Christmas!
Take advantage of the Christmas season to invest in the people God has placed in your life!
Here are some ways you can purpose to build relationships in the weeks leading up to Christmas.
Make your friends a part of your Christmas activities by inviting them to: • Come along to shop for a Christmas tree or Christmas gifts with you. • Come over to wrap gifts or bake cookies. • Go to any other Christmas activities you might already be attending. • Take a ride with you to see neighborhood Christmas lights. • Come over for coffee or dessert before or after the Christmas Eve Service, or on Christmas day for lunch or dinner.
Questions you can ask to show care and initiate spiritual conversations: • What are your holiday traditions? • What is your best memory from a past Christmas? • What does Christmas mean to you? • What are your hopes for the New Year? • What do you believe about the birth of Jesus? Who was he? • (If appropriate) How can I pray for you in the New Year?
As we’ve been saying all week long, Christmas is full of wonderful gifts. And not just the ones residing underneath the tree. We experience gifts of family and friends. Gifts of food and fellowship. As my dad would say, “We are rich!” And yet, I can sometimes fly through this season, taking for granted all that I have been given. This worldly mentality can rob me of joy if I fail to recognize and appreciate every good gift as coming straight from my heavenly Father (James 1:17). This leads me to our fifth and final key to joy this Christmas: “turn every gift into an opportunity to glorify and adore God.” Each year at the outset of vacation, my dad is faithful to remind us to transfer glory to God for His many gifts. He reads us the following quote from C.S. Lewis:
“Pleasures are shafts of glory as it strikes our sensibility….I have tried…to make every pleasure into a channel of adoration. I don’t mean simply by giving thanks for it. One must of course give thanks, but I meant something different…Gratitude exclaims, very properly, ‘How good of God to give me this.’ Adoration says, ‘What must be the quality of that Being whose far-off and momentary coruscations are like this!’ One’s mind runs back up the sunbeam to the sun….If this is Hedonism, it is also a somewhat arduous discipline. But it is worth some labour.” (as quoted in, When I Don’t Desire God, by John Piper)
This discipline is worth some labor. If, when we receive a gift, we stop and allow our minds to “run back up the sunbeam to the sun,” if we adore the One from whom all gifts come, we will find our joy multiplied a hundred fold.