Thursday, December 17, 2015

My Christmas Wish For You

Do you know anyone who has a difficult time coping during the holidays? Is December a stressful or difficult time for you? Have you ever heard others say, "I can't wait until Christmas is over"? Have you ever had the thought yourself?

Perhaps you love this time of year and try to make the best of it, but the attitudes of others often bring you down; or maybe you strive for joy, but no matter how positive and festive you try to be, you end up stressed, disappointed, and have moments of hopelessness that bring shadows of fear, anger, fatigue, frustration, or despair.

I know I've had those moments, and it always feels out-of-place. Decorating the tree, shopping for gifts, enjoying a family dinner, attending a Christmas event, carrying out a tradition…all of these things should bring joy; but inevitably one or more of them brings something else, and the moment that's been planned so carefully or looked forward to is suddenly spoiled.

Holidays can be a difficult time for some because things much bigger than petty wishes haven't been fulfilled or gone exactly as planned. Tragedy, loss, illness, or loneliness can bring on much greater feelings of despair or even severe depression. But whether we're talking about small disappointments, stressful days, family issues, or life going horribly wrong—the story of Jesus coming to earth is all about hope, and rather than focusing on the difficulties, the pain, or the stress that Christmas may bring, our eyes must turn to the One who can help us rise above anything that is clouding our joy.

If you take a good look at the birth of Jesus as recorded in the Bible, and the events leading up to it, you see it was not all warm and fuzzy with holiday lights and traditions. A young Jewish girl had a lot of explaining to do. The man she was engaged to nearly left her. We don't know how her family and friends reacted to the news of her pregnancy, but I'm sure it was a stressful, life-altering time for Mary.

Then there was the long ride to Bethlehem when she was due any day, going into labor and delivering her baby in a stable, and the only crib available was a feeding trough softened by prickly hay? It wasn't exactly a "silent night", I imagine.

And yet we read in Luke 2:19, after the shepherds had come to see the baby, that Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. Her first-born child may not have come the way she had expected or hoped, but she knew this baby was somehow the hope of Israel, her homeland, and He would bring her much hope as well…"My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior." (Luke 1:46-47)

Some people like to make a big fuss about removing the word "Christmas" from holiday greetings, business slogans, and town festivities. But a far greater loss is when those who claim to celebrate Christmas as a Christian holiday don't actually live by the love, hope, joy, and peace Jesus has for us. 

Jesus doesn't want me to simply acknowledge His birth; He wants His birth to transform me. He doesn't want me to say the word "Christmas" and force others to do the same; He wants me to live in the reality of His presence. Christmas is love. Christmas is joy. Christmas is hope. This is what Jesus came to bring. Are we receiving these wonderful gifts ourselves and sharing them with others? Are we looking to Jesus to help us with any difficulties we are facing? Are we stressed-out, angry, weary, and frazzled, or are we living in the peace Jesus offers us when we simply come to Him?

One of my favorite sayings of Christmas is to not keep Jesus in the manger. A nativity scene or a children's play about the birth of Jesus is a good reminder that He came, but we must also remember why He came: A Savior has been born to you…(Luke 2:11) To us a child is born, to us a son is given…and he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9:6)

Do you need His guidance today, His strength, His rescue, His protection, His love, His tender care, His peace, His presence? This is why He came. I pray you will remember that this season and throughout the coming year. I wish you more of Jesus.

Photo Credit:"ChristmasMarketJena" by ReneS at flickr - Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Commons -

Photo Credit: "Gerard van Honthorst 001" by Gerard van Honthorst - The Yorck Project: 10.000 Meisterwerke der Malerei. DVD-ROM, 2002. ISBN 3936122202. Distributed by DIRECTMEDIA Publishing GmbH.. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons -

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Hope Is Here!

"For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders.  And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace." (Isaiah 9:6)

Advertising is big business. Wikipedia defines advertising as "a form of communication used to promote or sell something." Most commonly this means that advertisers are trying to get us to buy stuff that we may or may not need. We see this all year round in our consumer-based society, but Christmas is a time when they go full-throttle. Special deals on products, one-day sales, limited-time offers, "the newest best thing your Christmas won't be complete without!"

It can be overwhelming. With so much demanding our attention, time, and money, it's easy to get distracted from what Christmas is all about. But I think we can also learn something from those who are demanding our attention during this Christmas season. Letting people know what is available to them and convincing them they need it is the key to good advertising. And advertising is not always bad if you have something that's worth sharing.

Advertising at Christmas is not just a modern-day practice of retailers. God is in the business of advertising too, and that's really what the first Christmas was all about. He had something that people needed, and He sent messengers to proclaim the Good News. But He started way before Christmas Day or even Thanksgiving. Black Friday retailers don't have anything on God's advance planning. Many of the Prophets of the Old Testament proclaimed a Savior was coming hundreds of years before Jesus arrived, and God sent an angel months ahead of time to tell Mary and Joseph all about the role they would play in bringing this Savior to the world.

On the night of Jesus' birth, more angels came to announce His arrival and proclaim, "Peace on earth and good will toward men."  But that wasn't the end of God's marketing scheme. He sent John the Baptist to "prepare the way for the Lord", and when Jesus began His public ministry, He was a walking advertisement of what God wanted the people to know: "The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe this good news!"

Salvation has come. God's mercy is alive and well. Hope is here!

I was doing some research on the word "hope" in the Bible, looking for encouraging verses to share with those who need hope because of difficult circumstances they are facing this holiday season. In the Old Testament I found it 86 times, used in both positive and "I have no hope" ways; and from Acts to Revelation, it is used 80 times. But in the gospels, it occurs once—as a quote from Isaiah in the Old Testament, not from the mouth of Jesus.

Doesn't that seem odd? When the Old Testament Prophets and Poets talked about hope, they were talking about God bringing salvation to His people. Oftentimes they were talking about Jesus, the Savior who would come and deliver them. And the New Testament writers were speaking about Him too. And yet Jesus Himself never used the word.

I think the reason for this is that Jesus said it a different way. He was much more specific in how He described Himself and His role. He didn't say, 'Your hope has come. I have arrived,' and leave it at that. He said, "I am the bread of life; I am the light of the world; I am the good shepherd..."  I bring healing, forgiveness, satisfaction, eternal life, peace, joy, and everything you truly need. He told them about something they'd had all along. Jesus didn't come to proclaim anything new. He came to say: You are loved. You always have been, and you always will be.

The Prophet Isaiah proclaimed: "For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders.  And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace." (Isaiah 9:6)

Isaiah was one of God's advertisers, and I see myself the same way. I "communicate to promote something".  But it's not just hype. It's not about greed or running a successful company or inventing the newest best thing. It's about sharing a basic truth: You are loved.

In John 17:26, Jesus says these words to His Father during prayer: "I have made you known to them, and I will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them, and that I myself may be in them."  What did Jesus come to do? He came to advertise God's love. He came to show us what we really need. And He never stops!

I encourage you to look for ways God has displayed His love to you. As you celebrate the Savior's birth this season, think about what God's love really means for you. What difference has God's mercy and love meant to you in the past, and how can it make a difference today?