By Garrett Vickrey
On a side street just off of South Congress in Austin there is a mint green wall with a message written on it. Scrawled across the wall in cursive red spray paint are the simple words, “I love you so much”.
Every day hundreds of people come from all over to take their picture with those they love in front of this wall. They post pictures with kids, spouses, parents and “besties” on Facebook and Instagram. It’s so simple: words on a wall. But, these simple words remind us of something profound. Something as necessary to us as the food and drink found in every establishment on South Congress Avenue.
You are loved.
This is the simple message of Christmas. It’s obscured sometimes by the commitments and nostalgia of the season. It’s so simple we wonder why it’s a big deal.
Not only did God love you so much to send the Christ, but in doing this God doubles-down in committing to the world God made. It’s a reaffirmation of what God said in the beginning— “It is good”.
As we celebrate the infant Jesus being born to Mary, may we remember that the One born in suspicion at an inopportune moment with no place to rest his head is waiting to be born among us today.
As the words of the old carol proclaim:
We hear the Christmas angels
The great glad tidings tell
O come to us, abide with us
Our Lord Emmanuel
Or to put it simply: I love you so much.
By Marilyn Gladson
“The true bread of God is the one who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”
Today is a special day for me. My father was born on Christmas Eve, December 24, 1926. Once, when I was a child, I asked him if he got combined Christmas/Birthday gifts when he was growing up. “What gifts?” was his reply. He was the third of three brothers and had three younger sisters. It is safe to say their family was quite poor. My grandfather was a jack-of-all-trades who made his living by doing a variety of jobs. He even did some preaching along the way. Yet, he always provided for his wife and children. And not all gifts come wrapped in pretty paper, ribbons, and bows. Daddy had the gift of a loving family who nurtured his faith, taught him to sing the old hymns of praise, and showed him how to be a fine man, husband and father.
He learned those lessons well. While his teacher/preacher salaries did not always stretch to the end of the month, our family of five was never hungry, always had clothes and shelter, and managed to put a dollar each in our Sunday School envelopes every week. The “true bread of God,” Jesus Christ, was as familiar to me as my aunts, uncles, and cousins. I cannot remember any time in my life when I did not know about our loving God and our salvation through faith in Jesus.
So, today I celebrate not only the human birth of Jesus in tiny Bethlehem, but also the birth and life of my dad. Both have given me life and love and joy.
By Elizabeth Pruitt
Have you seen this advice on social media or received it from a well-meaning friend? Sometimes when I hear those words, I think “Really, you don’t understand what I am going through. Seems too easy. Seems a little trite.”
Psalm 40 verse 16 says, “But all who seek you rejoice and be glad in you; may those who long for your saving help always say, The LORD is great!”
This Psalm is about David being in distress, praying to be rescued, waiting (and waiting) for God, to lift him from his trouble, and then giving God praise for saving him. We’ve all been in our own pit of trouble: an unwelcome diagnosis, the loss of a job, disappointment, death of a loved one, a broken relationship. The list could go on and on. We can be comforted, that our joy is not contingent on our situation, for our joy is grounded in the Lord. Romans 5 verses 10-11 confirm this, “For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.”
I guess as believers, we have “Chosen Joy”. This deep-down joy comes when we are reconciled to God through faith Jesus Christ.
This Christmas, and always, let us remember that we can rejoice regardless of our circumstances because of Christ within our hearts.
I’ve got the joy, joy, joy, joy
Down in my heart (where!?)
Down in my heart (where!?)
Down in my heart.
I’ve got the joy, joy, joy, joy
Down in my heart (where!?)
Down in my heart to stay.
By Cameron Taylor
“Please remain standing for a moment of silence.”
As an elementary school teacher, the above words are spoken after the Pledge of Allegiance at the start of our morning announcements. For me, this is a set time during the school day where I can stop, take a pause from the busy schedule, and pray to God. I take this time to thank God for my family, my students, and other loved ones. I ask him to continue to bring hope, peace, joy, and love to their lives as well.
As Romans 12:9-12 states, don’t just pretend to love others. Really love them. Hate what is wrong. Hold tightly to what is good. These verses speak to me as I honor God and try my best every day to love all people that I come across in my life. Joy can be contagious!
I also teach first and second grade students in Sunday School at Woodland and we often discuss when and where we can pray. I frequently remind them that they can say a prayer during the moment of silence at their schools.
A moment of silence can be a powerful thing.
By Becky Miller
“The word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.” John 1:14
The birth that changed the world must change us also.
Many years ago our family attended a small country church on Easter Sunday. I remember nothing of the sermon, but I have not forgotten the old gospel anthem that was sung. The music was simple and repetitive as were the lyrics. But somehow the words touched my soul and have stayed with me.
Heaven came down and glory filled my soul,
When at the cross the Saviour made me whole.
My sins were washed away and my night was turned to day
Heaven came down and glory filled my soul.
Such a simple expression of God’s incredible gift to us, but how complex is our ability to use this gift. Once we have God’s glory in our souls, what are we to do with it?
We can keep it in a box and look at it when we pass by.
We can display it like a talisman, boastfully sharing our gift.
We can put it in a safe to hold for the time we might need it.
Or we can invest it and share the profits it reaps with those around us, knowing that no matter how much we give away, there will always be enough left for us.
What changes when we decide to share God’s grace?
We become kinder.
We become open to others.
We can accept the outsiders, the weak, the lonely because that is what Jesus did.
This may not be an easy task, but remember God became flesh and lives among us. That can change us, and what we may not be able to do on our own, we can do in partnership with God.
The birth that changed the world must also change us! Or we have wasted the best portion of the gift.
May the glory of God shine in our lives!
By Jerome Malek
“Make a joyful noise unto the Lord, all the earth: make a loud noise, and rejoice, and sing praise.” Psalm 98:4
From the beginning of time God’s creation has manifested the glory of God. The mystery and splendor of the universe cries out in joyful sounds and majestic beauty testifying to the transcendent nature of the Creator.
God’s people down through the ages have proclaimed God’s praises. Now it is our turn to offer our praise and worship. God is revealed in the life and work of Jesus of Nazareth to whom we celebrate in churches throughout the world.
Music has always played a major role in the celebration of the birth of Christ. Composers, poets, and other artists have endeavored to capture the joy of the coming of Immanuel (God with us) as not only creator, but as redeemer.
Too splendid for speech but ripe for a song:
the wonders of God to whom we belong!
What tune can we sing? What rich chords can we play
to honor the potter who made us from clay?
The swell of earth’s praise shall build to a blast
of trumpets and drums when God comes at last
to hear if our lives, like the heavens above,
are filled with the music of justice and love.
Alert to your notes that dance in the heart
we promise, O God, that we’ll sing our part
and pray that the song which your song shall inspire
will lead every nation to join in your choir.
Thomas H. Troeger
Copyright to Oxford University Press, Inc. 1985
Assigned to Oxford University Press 2010
Reproduced by Permission of CopyCat Music Licensing, LLC
Bob Oxford University Press
All Rights Reserved
By Rubye Box
The Son of God came to earth as an infant altogether human and yet, altogether God. The shepherds, whose job it was to watch over a flock of sheep, were not considered as very important nor were they very high on the pay scale. They were just common men doing the job they were hired to do. The flock they tended was very possibly the sheep that were used in the temple as sacrifices. These shepherds were caring for blemish free sheep who would one day take their turn as a temple sacrifice. Their blood would serve to briefly cover the sins of man until another sheep would follow with no end in sight.
The birth of Jesus was not announced to Herod. It was not announced to Cesar or any other political official. It was not announced to the religious leaders serving in those days. No, God sent his messengers, the angels, to go to the lowly shepherds and proclaim His birth to them.
We know from scripture that the angel who appeared to the shepherds frightened them. They were certainly not expecting to be the recipients of a message from God. After all, they were just regular men doing a mundane job. Over and over in scripture, we see that God does not look at a person’s status but at the hearts of men. It is there that God finds the worth of a person. The shepherds, though of lowly status, had a heart for God. They were constantly reminded of the fact that the sheep they cared for would become a sacrifice one day. Did they realize the baby the angel told them about would one day become the ultimate sacrifice? Probably not but that is just what Jesus became. He became the ultimate and final sacrifice for the sins of all mankind.
Dear Father, help us to realize that our worth to you has nothing to do with the job we have, the education we have, or the wealth we have accumulated. Help us to realize the worth of a person is determined by how You view us and not man. Thank you for loving us enough to send your precious son to be the ultimate sacrifice.
By Gina Garrison
One of my favorite folk songs, recorded by Rani Arbo and Daisy Mayhem, is titled “Ready for Joy.” The song expresses the dark places in our lives, when we feel downtrodden, tied to the ground, or surrounded by midnight. Throughout these hardships, the lyricist speaks enthusiastically of his or her anticipation of joy. “I wanna be ready when joy comes back.”
In what could have been a time of great despair, Mary expresses her overflowing joy and gratitude for God’s blessings. Despite the challenges she was facing, she was ready for joy. In this advent season, may we all make room in our hearts for the anticipation of joy. May we all be ready for the darkness to turn to light, our crying to turn to laughter. I want to be ready for the joy of Christmas and the birth of the Christ Child.
Holy Father, As we prepare for Christmas, may you delight in our joy and anticipation.
By Daniel Zamora
Increase your Joy and Rejoice!
Have you ever tried to walk in the darkness, at least a few steps to reach the closest light switch or perhaps when the power is out during a big storm, and are trying to reach your cell phone or any other source of light? We tend to do it very slowly to avoid bumping into furniture or stumbling on a toy or rug. Suddenly, you reach the light switch or the power is back. Can you picture yourself with a big smile on your face?
Yes, after struggling with limited or no visibility, the light is back on and we can see everything around us making it easier to walk or returning to our previous activity with a joyful attitude. It has been said that people who live in areas with limited lighting tend to be sad and depressed while those living in sunny places all year round have a more cheerful mood. If one light gives us that much joy, two or more lights can bring us lots of it.
In Advent, we light a candle to symbolize each of the gifts that God sent with Christ: hope, peace, joy and love. These presents are not part of a menu from which we choose from but, they come altogether. Thus, the light coming out of these candles increases every week and finally, on Christmas Eve, the Christ candle is lit giving us the better perspective of what the prophet Isaiah referred to seeing a great light.
During this season, let every light be a reminder of increasing our joy and rejoicing before the Lord.
By Mark Noblitt
In 20 centuries of Christianity, it is counterintuitive that a faith centered on peace has been used as the excuse for so much war and violence. I’ve often wondered what the earliest Christians – or indeed the Prince of Peace himself – would think of our modern Christianity. What does it really mean to be a Christ-follower in our world? As the people “on whom his favor rests,” what is our responsibility to the world regarding peace?
Our word for “peace” originates from the Latin word pax and literally means the absence of conflict or the presence of harmony. The Romans used the term “Pax Romana” to describe the enforced – oftentimes by extraordinarily harsh means – passivity of a population. In our modern, complex world, the word “peace” may mean many things to different cultures. I think of small-letter “peace” as a time of quiet, a pause button for the noise of life. When I think of the big-letter “Peace,” the concepts get more troublesome to define.
One doesn’t have to spend much time looking at our world to find places that need Peace. For more than a decade now, groups of scholars have been exploring what Peace means in our world. Many of them have arrived at the conclusion that it is possible to build Peace consciously and deliberately by transforming conflicts. They have arrived at some important conclusions about peacebuilding, the first of which is the recognition that conflict is healthy and part of the natural evolution of a society/culture. Another is that conflict resolution is a long-term process that takes time to move forward. A third is that understanding and seeking to transform the root causes of the conflict is the only path to true Peace.
As Christ-followers and the representatives of the Prince of Peace on Earth, what do conflict transformation and peacebuilding mean for us? In his benediction, our pastor speaks of a world that is “too dangerous for anything but love.” In this season of peace, let us make room in our inn for the Prince of Peace by working to transform conflicts (action) by seeking to understand the root causes (listen) and then by working to find ways to be peacebuilders in our broken world. “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the children of God.” – Matthew 5:9