by Dan Jean
“The whole assembly then agreed to celebrate the festival seven more days;
so for another seven days they celebrated joyfully.” 2 Chronicles 30:23
The anticipation of the big day is a memory. The gifts have all been unwrapped. The guests have gone home. It is time to take down those decorations. The Christmas season has come to an end, and a new year is here.
As the tree comes down, the cards are read one last time and thrown away, and the wreaths and tinsel go back in the closet, the season of joy comes to an abrupt end. The house looks bare and drab after the sparkles and bright colors are put away. There is a sadness that wants to creep in and unravel our experience. It is too easy to “pack and label” our Christmas joy and good will, and put them away until next year. I don’t think it has to be this way. Here is why…
First, the “label” is wrong. The trappings of Christmas are NOT Christmas, but only symbols of it. We don’t celebrate a decorated tree. We don’t anticipate eggnog and lighted houses. Yes, we enjoy them. Yes, they add to our experience. I urge care that we not “label” these icons incorrectly, and give them too much importance. Christmas is about the birth of a savior and the joy that birth brings to all people. Worship, the re-telling of the important stories of our faith, is a joyful component of Christmas. The church celebrates weekly, not annually. The Christ in Christmas promises to be with us always.
Next, we can continue to feast. Our gatherings with family, friends, and loved ones over a meal are not rare events, or at least they don’t need to be. A shared meal is always a celebration. Most of us eat two or three times a day! Re-label “dinner.” Call it a “feast”. Invite a friend. Talk. Laugh. Celebrate! Don’t pack away the joy of sharing a meal.
Also, for me, a component of extending the Christmas season for twelve months involves not “packing and putting away” the joy and good will we long for. Keep joy. Keep good will. The most spirited part of the brightest Christmas sweater – the detail that makes it stand out – is the bright smile just a few inches above the collar. In fact, that smile may be one of the best decorations on display throughout the season. You can pack that sweater away for another year, but your smile is in style all year long. It is joy you long for. Don’t pack it away.
Remember that Jesus’ birth is not something that happened “to us” a long time ago, but is something that happens “in us” always. Continue the celebration. Let the joy of the savior shine from within all year long.
Pastor Dan Jean
A Pastor’s Letters, 2014
This is from a collection of articles Dan Jean wrote to his congregation, New Hope United Methodist Church. Republished with his permission.
By Aaron Tyler
For God so loved the world
Seven days He rested.
Good He saw, but restless
Pursuit of a broken
Image quickly ensued.
For God so loved the world
I ran. Without rest, He
Watched for my return,
Hoping to Embrace.
For God so loved the world
Wrestling Jacob He
Limping in wakeful search
For lasting redemption.
For God so loved the world
Word incarnate, He came
Stillness where chaos slept
To Live, die, live again.
For God so loved the world
Run no longer. Return.
Limping, I slow to rest
Relying on a new
Image: repaired, restored.
In Christmas we find rest
For God so loved the world.
A one day mission trip on Saturday, December 10. Be at the church at 9:00 am. We should be back around 8:30 pm.
We will join our partner church Iglesia Bautista Emanuel (Emanuel) in their outreach to the Villa del Rio Apartments. They will give service pizza and drinks, have a pinata, give away gifts to children, make crafts with children (costumes for the Christmas story), give away Spanish New Testaments.
Setup will begin at 10:00 am. The main program will begin around 2:00 pm and will end about 6:00 pm.
The Christmas story will be told three times with kids acting out the different parts.
Make your plans to attend. Contact Leonora Newell for more information at 870.995.3519.
You can sign up here:
By Garrett Vickrey
It’s here. Christmas. Joy to the world! The Lord is Come!
What will we see now? We have been keeping watch for so long. Have our eyes grown red at the moment it is time to enjoy the fruits of their labor? Christ is come.
Watch. And see.
Franciscans and Eastern Orthodox Christians have always placed a greater emphasis on Christmas and the Incarnation of Christ than others. We have focused on Easter and the cross. But, these other Christian traditions remind us that the Incarnation was already the Redemption, because in Jesus’s birth God was already saying that it was good to be human, and God was on our side.
That is good news. That is gospel.
In the birth of Jesus we can know the truth of John 3:16. That God loves the world. So much that God has given us the greatest gift ― God’s life with us, for us, surrounding us. That’s a gift too good not to be shared. At Christmas we celebrate the unity of humanity with divinity. The earliest theologians stressed the incarnation not be seen as the descent of God to humanity, but the lifting up of humanity into the divine life. Be lifted today.
This gift lifts and invigorates every aspect of our life if we see through the incarnated lens of Christmas. The gift we celebrate this day uplifts every aspect of life, even the most humble or ordinary.
It’s a gift that makes us want to hold open doors for people a little longer. It makes us want to be a little kinder to strangers. That’s a gift that makes us want to be a little more truthful with our loved ones. It makes us want to be a little more generous with our time and money. All these gestures unfold the gift of this day and reflect its mercy. As Kathleen Norris says, “All that exists has the potential to reveal God’s truth and love.”
Keep watching. Keep waiting. In hope. In peace. In joy. Love. The gift is here. It is in us. It is around us. Do we see it? It is God. And it is good.
By Dan Jean
“‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.” I would be surprised if you haven’t heard these words already this season. They come from a beloved poem by Clement Clarke Moore and paint a romantic portrait of the power of Christmas to warm our hearts. This wonderful poem captures the preparation, imagination, and excitement that point to the arrival of Christmas, revealed in a flash to be St. Nicholas and his team on the new fallen snow. “The children were nestled all snug in their beds, while visions of sugar plums danced in their heads.”
The fruits in today’s passage from Galatians are not exactly sugarplums. The Apostle Paul writes this letter to challenge controversy in the early church. His clear tone shows how important it is for people to embrace unity in Christ, no matter their differences. Paul describes a tree laden with fruits worthy of our dreams and visions. Can anything possibly be wrong with such fruits as these?
Love. Joy. Peace. These words so often describe Christmas. The faithfulness of family and friends bring kindness and goodness. Patience and self-control soothe stresses of the season – most of the time. Paul gives us both beautiful words and worthy ideals. Take a moment to receive Paul’s gift. These fruits are a clear vision of life in the Spirit of Christ. Tonight as you close your eyes and imagine the best Christmas can offer, let Paul’s fruits inspire and delight you. “Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night!”
By Cyndi Levesque
Christmas in China was a special experience. Marc and I lived in Nanning, China, for four years, and would always remain there at Christmas because the Chinese New Year holiday wasn’t until late January to early February. We would smile as we walked through shopping malls hearing Christmas carols in English, knowing that most Chinese could not understand the words, much less the meaning behind them. The registered Chinese church had a 2-hour program each night of Christmas week complete with adult and children’s choirs, costumed dancers, and elaborate stage play. Dressed as Santa Claus, Marc would enter the sanctuary at the end of the program hauling a bag of gifts for the children to the tune of Jingle Bells (in English). One Christmas I wrote a play called “God’s Special Lamb” and using full-body puppets with Chinese features that I had purchased, the play was presented to the children.
We always had our own separate English class program, inviting our students and family members to learn about Christmas and sing Christmas carols – a great witnessing opportunity.
Since we didn’t have a car, we had to walk and take the bus everywhere. With no elevators in buildings with fewer than eight floors, we also did a lot of stair-climbing. When I broke my ankle and had to use crutches, it was even more difficult. The verse in Isaiah 40:31 was a great comfort – “…but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.”
Take a moment to reflect on this verse when you are exhausted from working, shopping, traveling, cooking, or whatever you do during this very busy me of year!
By Garrett Vickrey
Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her that her hard service has been completed, that her sin has been paid for, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins. A voice of one calling: “In the wilderness prepare the way for the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low; the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain. And the glory of the Lord will be revealed, and all people will see it together. For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”
Child development experts say the best way to raise “successful” and “well-adjusted” children is to teach delayed gratification. Of course, this flies in the face of everything else we experience on a daily basis where no gratification is ever delayed. Just try teaching a three year old that if she cleans her room then she can have chocolate.
Still, what we are trying to do when we teach delayed gratification is to instill the virtue of hope. We practice hope through self-discipline that teaches us the value of this essential to abundant life. The reason we all need to learn delayed gratification is so that we can flex our “hope” muscles in times of difficulty. At times we need to hold out and hang on through uncertainty. We need hope to be able to trust that things will get better.
This is essentially the idea behind this season, isn’t it? We teach children to wait for Christmas. They see the presents under the tree. They know there is something there for them. But, they have to wait. And in that waiting there is hoping. And the hope grows stronger in the waiting.
There are no better verses to read on this day ― the first Sunday of Advent― than words from Isaiah 40. This is the Sunday we light the candle of hope. Richard Rohr describes hope as, “The patient and trustful willingness to live without closure, without resolution, and still be content and even happy because our Satisfaction is now at another level, and our Source is beyond ourselves.”
The mistake we make this time of year is in thinking that Christmas is just for children; or that we must return to some childlike faith. What the world needs is not more immature faith. The world needs your faith grown up.
This is the task of Advent: to wait in patience and trust in order to flex our hope muscles. So that we might prepare ourselves to receive the Christ who comes to us. In the wilderness prepare a way. In your life, clear a path. Find emptiness so there is a place to be filled by the one who comes at Christmas. Don’t rush to resolution or closure. Quick fixes and easy answers are spiritual blindness. Hold out for hope. The hope that the glory of the Lord shall be revealed. May you know that glory this year as we all work on that “delayed gratification” that stretches our hope and awaits the resolution of which we catch the slightest hint when we sing, “Joy to the World.”
By Chris Rogers
1 Corinthians 13:1-13
Or even better yet, Joyous Christmas!
And even better still, Loving Christmas!
Today’s reading is the Bible’s classic Love Chapter. The classic it is, but it is never, ever static, nor shall it ever be!
Worthy of being etched in marble? Most certainly!
Old, dead, passé, irrelevant, or out of date? Not a chance!
Who of us can read this chapter and not in some way be deeply convicted by it? Who among us has always upheld the highest virtues of this simple devotional of only 215 words? In our individual encounters, in our off-line communications, within our families, within our community of faith? Has love always been the predominant feature in all our relationships?
Unfortunately and sadly, I think not. In fact, I know not! I know, because I know my own heart.
We usually do really well with the love thing until someone disappoints or seemingly betrays us. Then, what was love slowly morphs into silent bitterness, then fault- finding, then attack, then defense, and on and on the loveless episode begins … and inevitably ends. We tend to adjudicate our own actions by our stellar intentions, but we harshly judge others by their bare, unadorned actions. We give ourselves the benefit of every doubt, while withholding this same benefit from others, particularly those who have offended us in some way.
On this Christmas Day, let us allow the Love Chapter to instruct us, correct us, guide us, remind us, revive us. There’s no reason to turn I Corinthians 13 into a chapter of condemnation … that would not be love, would it? But this precious passage needs to be etched on the walls of our awareness for time and eternity so that we will constantly gauge our words and actions against it.
And speaking of time and eternity, won’t it be a glorious day when we all witness God’s love winning it all? It’s hard to imagine, but we need to begin dreaming about it and turning our hearts toward it … on this Christmas Day and throughout 2014.
Hope, peace, joy and love to you and yours!