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Archive for the ‘Christmas’ Category

Recently my wife Diana told me of an experience she had, and I got her permission to share it with you in this blog post.

She was showering one morning, and was feeling distant from God when she remembered some words from the December 5th devotional reading in Sarah Young’s Jesus Calling:

“Whenever you feel distant from Me, say: ‘Surely the Lord is in this place!’ Then, ask Me to give you awareness of My Presence. This is a prayer that I delight to answer.”

So she prayed, ”Jesus, please show me your presence today.” Although she didn’t know how he would show her his presence, she finished showering and went about getting ready to run some errands that morning.

Screen Shot 2015-12-11 at 2.42.31 PMTarget had advertised a Christmas ornamental red truck, but she had been unable to find it at several Target stores. She finally went online and found one at the Glendale store and ordered it. Having to pick it up in four days or lose it, she decided to face the early morning traffic to make the trip over to Glendale from our home in Granada Hills.

She showed her ID to the clerk at the service counter of the Glendale Target. When the clerk brought the red truck to her, Diana realized that it was bigger than she had imagined, but it was still very cute with a snowy wreath on the front grill and a snow-covered tree in the truck’s bed.

As she turned to leave the counter, a woman who had been sitting nearby came over to her, and Diana immediately saw that the woman was wearing a Christmas sweater that had a red truck woven on the front that looked just like Diana’s red truck!

“Oh, what a darling truck!” the woman exclaimed at the sight of Diana’s truck.

Diana pointed to the woman’s sweater and said she must have gotten it at Target. The woman said no, that she had had the sweater for many years, as well as an ornamental red truck, although it was slightly different from the design on her sweater or Diana’s truck!

Seeing the eager longing in the woman’s eyes, Diana offered to go and see if the store had another red truck for her. The woman said she’d stay right there at the service counter.

Diana sped off to the Holiday section on the third floor where the truck was supposed to be, but her heart sank when she didn’t see any trucks on the shelf. As she got closer, she was thrilled to see that there was one left—way back against the wall—so she grabbed it and raced to the escalator.

Another shopper on the escalator noticed Diana with the truck and remarked how cute the truck was. When Diana told her about the woman who was waiting to see if there was a red truck for her to match her sweater, the shopper smiled and said she was glad that Diana had found this last truck for the woman.

As Diana returned to the service counter, she was disappointed when she didn’t at first see the woman. But the woman appeared from behind some shoppers and her face broke into a big smile when she saw Diana with the red truck. The woman thanked her again and again for going to the trouble to find it for her, saying that Diana had made her day. Diana told her that it was she who had made Diana’s day with her expression of delight at seeing the truck.

Stella

Stella

The woman hugged Diana and introduced herself as Stella and that she is from the Los Feliz area of Los Angeles. Diana introduced herself and told her that she is from Granada Hills. When Stella shared that she has family in Granada Hills, and named the street and the house in which the family lives, Diana recognized the house as being about half a mile from our house! Even Los Angeles can be a very small town.

Having overheard the conversation between Diana and Stella, the clerk at the service counter remarked that this meeting was meant to be.

Diana looked at Stella and the beloved red truck in her hand and on her sweater, and told her that she had to take a picture of Stella. She pulled out her cellphone and snapped a couple of poses of Stella, and felt like she had just made a friend. And as Stella said goodbye and thanked Diana a few more times, both women hoped that somehow they would meet again.

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Diana

Diana drove back home, smiling as she thought of Stella and her newly found red truck. Then the thought hit her—Jesus had indeed answered the prayer she had made in the shower. He had been right there in Target orchestrating a divine meeting between two red truck fans. And in that meeting he brought delight and Light into the lives of a group of strangers in a chance meeting that none of them could have created on their own. And they were all blessed through that meeting.

How many times do we feel far away from Jesus, but do not ask him to draw near to us and make us feel his presence?

Diana hopes that we’ll remember to pray the next time we feel alone, because as she learned that day, Jesus’ presence is only a prayer away. And he delights to answer our prayers.

*****

Sarah Young, Jesus Calling: Enjoying Peace in His Presence (Thomas Nelson, Nashville, TN, 2011) p. 356.

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As we prepare to celebrate Christmas amid the rampant commercialism, hectic shopping, decorating, wrapping, cooking, and frayed nerves, may we pause to reflect on the significance of John. 1:14 to our celebration.

And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth. — John 1:14, NRSV

Here in this text, the Apostle John distils the entire message of the Bible and declares that the Word—the eternal God who existed before time and history, who spoke into existence the universe and all living things—became flesh and appeared among us as a human baby! The invisible, infinite, supernatural Creator became the visible, finite, flesh-and-blood Jesus of Nazareth! In one sentence, John covers the 33-year life span of Jesus and reminds us that we actually saw the glory of God in Jesus.

Just as the Shechinah—the glory and presence of God—appeared among the Israelites in the wilderness (Ex. 16:10; 24:16; 40:34), so was God’s glory revealed in Jesus at his birth (Lk. 2:14, 30-32), transfiguration (Mt. 17:2; Mk. 9:3), death, resurrection, and ascension (Jn. 7:39; 12:16, 23, 28; 13:31,32).

The glory seen in Jesus came from the unique Father-Son relationship that he had with God before the universe was created (Jn. 17:5), and permeated his earthly life and ministry. We not only saw the glory of God in Jesus, but also the fullness of God’s grace—the limitless mercy, kindness, and love of God for sinners—and the embodiment of the truth of God’s nature and characteristics.

And as Jesus prepared to return to his Father, he promised that he would not leave us alone, but that his Holy Spirit of truth would be with us to teach, guide, comfort, and help us.

So as we gather with our families and friends this Christmas, may we find time to give thanks to God that he did not stay remote and aloof from us in his heavenly realm, but, through Jesus, identified with our humanity, loved us, suffered for us, and ultimately died for our sins in order to redeem us and give us fullness of life—now and for all eternity.

*****

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The Hands That First Held Mary’s Child

The hands that first held Mary’s child were hard from working wood,
from boards they sawed and planed and filed and splinters they withstood.
This day they gripped no tool of steel, they drove no iron nail,
but cradled from the head to heel our Lord, newborn and frail.

When Joseph marveled at the size of that small breathing frame,
and gazed upon those bright new eyes and spoke the infant’s name,
the angel’s words he once had dreamed poured down from heaven’s height,
and like the host of stars that beamed blessed earth with welcome light.

“This child shall be Emmanuel, not God upon the throne,
but God with us, Emmanuel, as close as blood and bone.”
The tiny form in Joseph’s palms confirmed what he had heard,
and from his heart rose hymns and psalms for heaven’s human word.

The tools which Joseph laid aside a mob would later lift
and use with anger, fear, and pride to crucify God’s gift.
Let us, O Lord, not only hold the child who’s born today,
but charged with faith may we be bold to follow in his way.

–Thomas H. Troeger, 1985

                                                            *****

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Among my favorite songs that capture the essence of the Christmas experience is “Mary, Did You Know?” words written by Mark Lowry and music composed by Buddy Greene:

Mary, did you know that your baby boy
would one day walk on water?
Mary, did you know that your baby boy
would save our sons and daughters?

Did you know that your baby boy
has come to make you new?
And the child that you delivered
will soon deliver you?

Oh, Mary, did you know that your baby boy
would give sight to the blind man?
Mary, did you know that your baby boy
would calm a storm with his hand?

Did you know that your baby boy
has walked where angels trod?
And when you kiss your little baby,
you’ve kissed the face of God?

Oh, Mary, did you know—
The blind will see,
the deaf will hear,
the dead will live again!
The lame will leap,
the dumb will speak
the praises of the Lamb!

Oh Mary, did you know that your baby boy
is Lord of all creation?
Mary, did you know that your baby boy
will one day rule the nations?

Did you know that your baby boy
was heaven’s perfect Lamb?
And the sleeping child you’re holding
is the Great I Am!

But, no, Mary did not know–not at first, anyway, and not fully.

She knew that her baby was special and that he would become the Messiah who would save his people, but she would not comprehend the full meaning of his messiahship until she began her daily walk with him during their life together and until she experienced his death and resurrection thirty-three years later.

She had to see his birth from the perspective of his sacrificial death and resurrection before she could fully know and understand.

And so do we.

Until we accept his grace and forgiveness through his death and resurrection, and begin our daily walk with him, we will never be able to fully understand or celebrate his birth and the true meaning of Christmas.

Only then does the real Christmas come alive for us. Only then are we able to really celebrate his birth.

And as we do, we will discover a magnificence, a glory, and a mysterious divine presence that will touch us in the deepest recesses of our beings–bringing comfort, strength, healing, and peace, no matter how trying and difficult life might become.

Oh, may you know and celebrate–really celebrate–Christmas this year.

********

(To view Mark Lowry’s concert version of this song, please view my December 20, 2010 post of “Mary did you know?”)

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The Gospel of Luke is the only one among the four gospels that tells the story of an angel appearing before lowly shepherds to announce the joyful news of the birth of a child who would become the long-awaited Savior—The Messiah—and to invite them to visit the baby in a nearby stable in Bethlehem.

And then:

“Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others—the armies of heaven—praising God:

‘Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and peace on earth to all whom God favors.’ ”
–Luke 2:13-14, New Living Translation (NLT)

How startling and thrilling it must have been for the shepherds to see not just one angel—but, suddenly, a vast number of heavenly hosts praising God!

“Host“ and “heavenly host,” are military terms used throughout the Old Testament, so the NLT is correct in translating Luke 2:13 as “armies of heaven.”

These angelic fighting forces, with powers like those of the angel in 2 Kings 19:35 who single handedly killed 185,000 Assyrian troops in one night, appeared in the radiance of God’s glory—not to fight that night, but to praise God and herald the Messiah’s birth.

It was customary to have local musicians greet newborns and their parents with songs outside their homes, but Jesus had no such earthly minstrels outside his stable. Instead, his birth was the greatest event in human history and was worthy of a heavenly minstrelsy of millions of God’s angels (as in Rev. 5:11-13).

Their song—a couplet with three parallels in each line: (1) glory/peace; (2) in the highest heaven/on earth; (3) to God/to all whom God favors—gave the highest praise to God throughout the realms of heaven, and proclaimed a message of peace on earth.

However, this was not a universal declaration of peace for all on earth, but only “to all whom God favors.” And whom does God favor? He favors all who responds to his love by believing and trusting in Jesus as their Savior and by being reborn as sons and daughters of God (John 1:10-12; John 3:16).

This is what Jesus meant when he said to his disciples and to those who would follow him, “I am leaving you with a gift—peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give isn’t like the peace the world gives. So don’t be troubled or afraid.” (John 14:27 NLT)

This gift of peace is the presence of the Holy Spirit living within believers, guiding them, comforting them, and strengthening them (John 14:26). This is not the worldly peace that depends on the absence of conflict, but it is the peace of the Holy Spirit who gives the believer the confident assurance of God’s love and abiding presence in any and all circumstances, with no fear of either present or future circumstances and outcomes (Romans 8:35-39).

And so, during this Christmas season and in the midst of the uncertainties of life today—mass killings, drive-by shootings, economic uncertainties and loss of jobs, failing health, wars, and more—the joyous proclamation by the angels that the Christ Child came to bring “peace on earth to all whom God favors” should inspire us to joyfully lift our praises to our heavenly Father.

Not only did the armies of heaven herald Christ’s first appearance, they will also announce his Second Coming when he will finally establish his Kingdom of true peace for all eternity, for as the Apostle John wrote:

“Then I looked again, and I heard the singing of thousands and millions of angels around the throne and the living beings and the elders. And they sang in a mighty chorus:

‘The Lamb is worthy—the Lamb who was killed.
He is worthy to receive power and riches
and wisdom and strength
and honor and glory and blessing . . .’

‘Blessing and honor and glory and power
belong to the one sitting on the throne
and to the Lamb forever and ever.’ “

May Christ’s peace rule in your hearts this Christmas and until he returns.

***

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(This is an excerpt from my memoir, A Jamaican’s Journey to Time and Patience)

After the months of studying for the O Levels and the intense days sitting for the exam, it was a relief to finish the last section of the exam and finally go on Christmas break to await the results in the spring. I got a two-week job in the shoe department of one of the major retail stores on King Street, but instead of repeating the Christmas Eve parade celebration down King Street as I had done the previous year, I chose to go caroling with some friends from Constant Spring Church. One of the young men in the church mounted a loud speaker on top of his station wagon and a number of us piled into the station wagon and drove around Kingston singing Christmas carols.

This was my first Christmas as a new Christian, and it took on a whole new meaning. For the first time, through redeemed eyes, heart, and mind, I began to see and understand what Christmas was all about!

It was not about Santa Claus, shopping, presents, or parties.

It was about the love of God for a lost humanity of which I was a part.

It was about a God who, even before he created the universe, planned it that, at the appropriate time, he would visit us in the form of a human baby who would grow up to reveal the true nature of God, and save us from sin’s destruction.

It was about a poor, frightened teenage girl who was visited by an angel and given the news that she was chosen by God to bear the child who would become the Savior of the world.

It was about dirty, smelly shepherds who, though ignored and despised by their society, were favored by God to be the first to hear heavenly choirs announce the birth of the Christ Child.

It was about three wise men who understood the significance of that baby and brought gifts to commemorate his birth and his future ministry and sacrificial death.

It was about God’s grace, mercy, kindness, and overwhelming love and generosity to me–and every person who lived or will live–in offering us salvation and eternal life.

And so, at eighteen, from the perspective of one who was redeemed from sin and blessed with eternal life, for the first time I understood and celebrated the true meaning of Christmas.

And celebrate it I did–with joyful music, carols, worship, and sweet fellowship with fellow believers.

That Christmas Eve of my eighteenth year found me reveling–not on King Street with the wild, bacchanal masses but–with a group of young Christians driving through the streets, avenues, and lanes of Kingston singing Christmas carols.

Though I had heard many of those carols before, singing them that Christmas Eve night throughout Kingston brought new meaning, significance, and appreciation for their words and tunes.

There would be many more Christmases to come over the decades, but this was the year and the Christmas in which I first fell deeply in love with the Christ Child who became my Lord and who was to shape my life from that point on.

****

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