:: Love Came Down at Christmastime

At Christmas, we can experience every kind of emotion there is: anger at a disgruntled family member, stress finishing up last-minute shopping, exhaustion after wrapping gifts on Christmas Eve…but when all is said and done, Christmas is about love. And don’t just take my word for it. The nineteenth-century poet Christina Rossetti famously captured the spirit of Christmas when she wrote:

        Love came down at Christmas,
        Love all lovely, love divine;
        Love was born at Christmas,
        Star and angels gave the sign.

And the beloved disciple John wrote in 1 John 4:9:

God showed how much he loved us by sending his one and only Son into the world so that we might have eternal life through him.

Christmas is not only a demonstration of God’s love, but an expression of God’s character, for God is love (1 John 4:8). The ultimate expression of God’s love was sending Jesus into the world, which is what we celebrate at Christmas, Immanuel – God with us!

God’s ways are always motivated as an expression of his love and as we experience more of his love, we in turn learn how to love others. In fact, our love for others is evidence that God lives in us. When we allow God’s love to shine in our lives, people can see the unseen God at work and that brings him glory, honor and praise.

Christmas wasn’t just a cute little baby being born in a manger on a silent night in a little town of Bethlehem! Christmas reminds us of the Son of God, who for the love of you and me left his Father’s side to make a way for us to know and experience relationship with him. Christmas is a love story.

This Christmas, may you more fully experience God’s unconditional love, so that you may more fully love others as he has loved us!

Christmas Traditions

In the Old Testament, the Isrealites remembered God’s provision and faithfulness through feasts and celebrations. Several times a year, they’d stop what they were doing and celebrate how God brought them out of slavery, or how God protected them from their enemies. Additionally, several times throughout the Old Testament, men of faith would also set up memorial stones to remind all who passed by of God’s great provision.

In Genesis 35:14, Jacob set up a pillar, a type of memorial, in the place where God had spoken and revealed Himself. In 1 Samuel 7:12, Samuel took a stone and set it up saying, “Till now the Lord has helped us.” Every time the Israelites went by them, they would remember what God had done. How He had brought them out of bondage, healed their children, and supernaturally provided for their needs. Having those memorial stones helped it to stay fresh in their memory.

Over the years, our family has carried out a tradition of giving Christmas ornaments to one another. Our tree is laden with ornaments going back to my childhood. And Jennifer and I adopted this family tradition over 20 years ago when we first got married and have for over 20 years accumulated ornaments, that like the Israelites, bring back  special memories. As we were decorating the tree tonight, I was flooded with memories of years gone by. There was the “Our First Christmas” ornament, with a picture of a much younger Bryan and Jen (and as Zach jokes, with hair). We have ornaments that were given by missionary friends from Russia & China. And there are many that memorialize the 2010 SF Giants World Series victory!

However, several years ago, due to the increasing population of ornaments on our tree, Jen & I decided that we would only buy one ornament for each other. That ornament usually derives from our vacation destination, or signifies a significant memory from the year. We haven’t yet purchased this year’s ornament, since we really didn’t have a vacation this summer because of Zach’s broken leg, so we were laughing tonight about getting a moving truck ornament, or finding an ornament with a boy who’s in a cast. Whatever we find, it will remind of us some special memory we shared together as a family.

It was also fun to see Zach really appreciate the tradition we share this evening. He proudly hung most of his ornaments on the front of the tree. He talked about each one and together we remembered our time together with our dog Maggie. We talked about how we miss her and what a great dog she was. We talked about the fun we had in Hawaii during our sabbatical and about how we need to go back this next summer. We looked at ornaments he made in elementary school! It was a grand time and in about 10-12 years, many of the ornaments will likely move out when Zach charters his own course in life. We keep his ornaments boxed separately, so he can carry the tradition on, when he starts his own family. And we look forward to a day that we’ll be able to recall those special memories with his family.

Yes, celebrations and memorial markers help us to recall and remember God’s goodness in the land of the living. And I am grateful for the traditions that my mom started and that we now continue on, for they truly remind me of how full and blessed my life really is!

:: The Gift of Peace

Peace is one of the greatest gifts the Lord has given to us! In Isaiah 9:6, the prophet Isaiah foretold of the peace we would experience upon Christ’s arrival. On any given day, we experience many negative emotions that will try to rule our hearts. This happens when we spend too much time being anxious, angry or fearful. But the good news is that we have the power to choose between letting our emotions rule us or letting the Prince of Peace fill our hearts and mind with tranquility and thankfulness.

The babe in a manger reminds us that God cares about us and wants to change our lives. When He works in the lives of his people we see love, faithfulness, righteousness and peace.  The name Prince of Peace reminds us that only through Jesus will we truly have peace of mind. Christ can indeed bring peace to any situation. The most difficult circumstance, the most ruthless enemy, the deepest pain – none of these are beyond Christ’s reach.

As you worship this Christmas, open your heart, soul, mind and body to his perfect peace. Let the peace of God’s presence transform you today and every day. He can calm your heart and mind. No one brings peace like Jesus.

:: The Hope of Christmas

At Christmas we have great reason to hope! John 1:1 proclaims that, “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.” John 1:14 goes on to say that, “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” The Word is Jesus, the living God!

When the prophet Isaiah foretold of the birth of Christ, a new hope was born. A hope that lives in us today! And after Jesus came in the flesh, he promised to return and take us to be with him, giving us eternal hope!

Many think the story of Jesus begins with Christmas, a babe born in a stable to a virgin. But we forget, or don’t realize, that Jesus is also referred to as the long-awaited Messiah, the promised one. In fact, the promise of Messiah goes all the way back to the fall (Genesis 3:15). From Genesis to Revelation, the Bible tells us a story of God’s redemptive plan to bring fallen man back into relationship with Himself, pivoting on the person and work of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.  Whereas the Old Testament looks toward the coming of the Messiah, the New Testament looks at the fulfillment of Messiah and how God’s plan is satisfied in Jesus. And as the story continues, the church looks forward to his imminent return when Jesus…the resurrected Messiah, will reconcile all things unto Himself.

The season of advent has always been connected to the promise of hope. This Christmas, I pray that you may truly rejoice and celebrate the greatest hope that the world has ever known!

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