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 Sandra Peters
Hallelujah, it’s Christmas Eve and we are celebrating the Present of presents! King of kings! Lord of lords!
Yes! Jesus Christ!! The ultimate Present from God!!! Thanks be to God!!!!
Think about all that has happened in 2016. God through His Beloved Son Jesus has granted us gifts of Hope, Peace, Joy and Love through our church family, our families, a multitude of caring friends, and people we do not even know. We see His Presence everywhere we look
Today our church family joins Christians across the globe, whether in church or at home, to give thanks for God’s Present of Jesus Christ our Lord. Jesus, in turn, gives us His presents of Hope, Joy, Peace and Love!
By Edgar Twedt
1 Peter 1:8
6 In this you rejoice, even if now for a little while you have had to suffer various trials, 7 so that the genuineness of your faith – being more precious than gold that, though perishable, is tested by fire – may be found to result in praise and glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. 8 Although you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, 9 for you are receiving the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.
The first thing that came to my mind when I read this verse (in bold letters above) was what does this have to do with Advent. Then I tried to turn my doubting mind away from its cynical bent, and take a deeper look. The passage is a message from the Apostle Peter to those who have not actually seen the Lord physically as Peter had. When we look at it in the overall picture of Advent through Resurrection and finally seeing our Lord face to face, it makes remarkable sense. Just as we have not seen our Lord face to face, and just as we do not see him now, still we love him, believe in him and rejoice with what Peter calls an indescribable and glorious joy. And the same is true of the Advent of his Incarnation. None of us was there, none of us saw the event personally, but we believe in him who came and dwelt among us, and we continue to rejoice with indescribable and glorious joy at the oft repeated story of the Advent of his coming. In a very important sense our first meeting of our Lord was one of indescribable and glorious joy, and so every time we celebrate ADVENT it reminds us of the first time we met him. No wonder we are filled with awe and wonder as we move into the season of ADVENT. It isn’t just the holly and the ivy, the trimmed Christmas tree, the stockings all hung by the chimney with care, or the beautifully wrapped presents so neatly displayed around that tree. It’s the indescribable and glorious joy of our relationship to the living Christ.
By Nora O. Lozano
Psalm 40 is full of contrasts. On the one hand, the Psalmist writes about his own difficult experiences:
Being in a desolate pit, and a miry bog (verse 1)
For evils have encompassed me without number; my iniquities have overtaken me…; they are more than the hairs of my head, and my heart fails me (verse 12)
The Psalmist is in a desperate situation. I cannot remember how many times I have recited and prayed this Psalm. In fact, at a certain point in my life, it was one of my most constant prayers. Perhaps you have had similar experiences where you felt, too, that you were in a desolate pit and a miry bog.
But there is hope! With God there is always a sense of expectation and anticipation as Christians wait for divine intervention.
In this hope, the Psalmist narrates God’s actions on his behalf:
I waited patiently for the Lord; he inclined to me and heard my cry (verse 1)
You have multiplied, O Lord my God, your wondrous deeds and your thoughts toward us; none can compare with you (verse 5).
…the Lord takes thought for me. You are my help and my deliverer; (verse 17).
Having experienced life’s vulnerabilities as well as God’s mighty deliverance, the Psalmist rejoices and invites us to do the same:
…may all who seek you rejoice and be glad in you; may those who love your salvation say continually, “Great is the Lord!” (verse 16).
For Christians who have witnessed God’s deliverance, joy is a deep state of mind and heart. Even though we may be experiencing problems and difficulties now, we rest in joy because God will act again on our behalf, just as God did in the past.
The topics of joy, deliverance, rest, and salvation continue into the New Testament, yet they find new expressions. As we anticipate the miracle of the incarnation, let’s rejoice because Jesus’ birth represents a fresh and powerful expression of God’s love, salvation, and goodwill towards humanity. Life is difficult, but there is rest in our triune God’s nature and actions Amen!
By Dan Jean
Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.
If you are like me, the busyness, pressures, and deadlines of this season can be unsettling. I hope for peace and joy, but often find unrest and tension instead. The Christ child seems to be hidden somewhere in the crowd of shoppers, the plates of cookies, and the big day looming ahead on the calendar. Where is the joy I desire? How can I find peace and rest while truly enjoying all the season has to offer?
A popular term describing the mental state of a person totally immersed in an activity for its own sake is “flow.” People verbalize their flow experiences using the metaphor of a water current carrying them steadily along. Athletes and artists describe such special moments in a very positive way, characterized by energized focus and real joy. The hallmark of flow is a feeling of spontaneous contentment. Even when facing a competition or a deadline, a person in flow is energized and calm, at peace.
Paul’s passage from Romans invites us to a lifestyle of flow, with good pushing evil aside and clearing the way for the focused and passionate practices of devotion, honor, zeal, and spiritual fervor. The fruits? Joy, patience, and faith. Joy is a passionate state where life flows and energy is abundant and contagious. Patience – not anger – overcomes difficulty. Faith fuels a natural and regular practice of prayer.
Christmas is about the great love God has for us flowing into this world. The son of God came to light the way for all people. Today Jesus lights the path to abundant life for each of us. Let’s begin to imagine and live a life as Paul describes, love flowing. The joy that flows from sincere love will propel us forward – joyful, patient, and faithful.
By Lance Mayes
The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood. We saw the glory with our own eyes, the one-of-a-kind glory, like Father, like Son, Generous inside and out, true from start to finish. John 1:14 The Message
Moving. It is an overwhelming task and most of the time a huge headache. Packing up boxes. Cleaning. Unpacking boxes. Change of address forms. Remembering to drive to a new place! After our last move, Jennie told me I better like our house and neighborhood because we are never moving again!
David and Lauren Bass made a big move in October 2015. Following God’s call, they moved to Cambodia to serve as CBF Field Personnel. Can you image that kind of move? Selling many of your things including cars and home. Boxing up everything and deciding what goes with you, what goes to family, and what is given away. Then, you still have to learn a new culture and language.
David and Lauren find ministry in the middle of language school. David shares in their blog on April 27, 2016, “What is ministry if not living life alongside people, learning how they see the world, allowing yourself to be vulnerable with them, all in order to display God’s love.”
David’s description of ministry sounds like what Jesus did when he moved into our neighborhood. Can you imagine that kind of move? Here was King Jesus present before creation (and even participating in creation) currently reigning in his kingdom. He became as vulnerable as a baby having to be taken care of and taught. As he grew, he displayed God’s generosity and love. He continued to reflect God’s glory in his death and resurrection.
What joy we find in our humanness because of Jesus. You might not be called to be CBF Field Personnel, but you do have a calling. Find the joy in moving into the calling God has for you.
The Offering for Global Missions supports CBF Field Personnel like David and Lauren. You can find more information online at woodlandbc.org/ogm. Our goal is $40,000 and for every person at Woodland to contribute — from the youngest to the oldest.
You can follow David and Lauren at davidandlaurenbass.com.
By Linda Mason
If we are truthful, it’s not always easy to be joyful. Mary found herself in a less than desirable situation, and yet, she embraced her circumstances because she realized it was going to result in good for the entire world.
Many things can bring us happiness; joy is internal and we recognize it when it happens, it bubbles up from the inside. Michael Yaconelli, the author of Messy Spirituality, talks about “the triumph of tiny living.” We all know the stories of God’s spectacular miracles but most of our lives are lived in ordinary, tiny living. “…the spiritual life is a tiny life, filled with little decisions, tiny steps toward God, tiny glimpses of his presence, little changes and small movings, tiny successes, and imperceptible stirrings.” A joy-filled faith springing from an ordinary life. I wonder how often during this season we let anxiety, need for control, fear of change, box checking and list making rob us of joy. Ah, that we would let God take our hand and guide us, wiping away the clutter so we can use our senses to experience joy in a multitude of tiny ways that would fill our lives like molecules, right up to the brim and maybe over.
By Christyn Baer
“Joy” might be my favorite Christmas word; I can’t think of another that produces such a deep and overflowing feeling of excitement. In The Life You’ve Always Wanted, John Ortberg addresses “The Practice of Celebration.” He reminds us that Joy is at the heart of God’s plan for us, for it is at the heart of God himself. We can see joy most visibly in children, for they live every moment as though life is the gift that it truly is. Us “grown-ups” are so busy hurrying from one task to another that we miss the joy… the life… the gift… that is right in front of us. As I reflected on this, I recalled a journal entry I wrote on this day last year. Our son Ellison was 2 ½ at the time. He was (and still is) a blonde blur, full of energy and passion and energy… 12/13/15 The 3rd Sunday of Advent: JOY!
If I had to describe Ellison in one word, this would be it. He is absolutely full of JOY. To the brim. His cup runneth over. Every day is full of new discoveries and big adventures and tiny moments that bring sheer elation. Things like seeing his sister roll over – “She rolled over!!!” Or commenting on all the things he likes (always in third person) – “Bubba loves tacos! I do! You love tacos Mommy?” Or talking with Beasley (our dog) – “You wanna go on a walk? Yeah? You do!?!? Yeah?”
The inflection in his voice, the smile that covers his face, the gurgling laughter from deep in his belly. Manifestations of his joy. It’s a trait that I hope will never be extinguished and I aim to do all I can to continue fanning the joyous flame. Please God, remind me not to let less significant things – like my need for order and routine – get in the way of Ellison’s Joy!
As C.S. Lewis stated, “Joy is the serious business of heaven.” So perhaps we can take ourselves less seriously this season… Just REST in the moment and take in the JOY that surrounds us.
By Barbara Higdon
We appear to be a nation depressed and angry. We cry out to God to “restore our fortunes.” We rail against the failures of our leaders in whom we placed our trust. Greed, corruption and power-lust have invaded many of our political offices. Many are voting in anger and disgust with those who made huge promises and failed to deliver. We turn against them and look for other saviors who promise to change.
In the midst of that anger, it is easy to lose hope and forget the One who promised “to do great things for us.” He has not failed us, but he has allowed us to believe that in man we can find relief.
My prayer today is that we can “sow with tears” and wait patiently for the harvest. Putting one foot in front of the other in the midst of despair of any kind is important. God has promised that we will “will reap with songs of joy” if we simply follow his path.
Moving forward in this season of Lent, we must remember that our responsibility is to sow the seeds, whether with or without tears. It’s God’s promise to restore our souls, and our walk to the Cross is a daily reminder of his faithfulness even in the face of broken dreams. Reading the Psalms reminds us that we are not the first, nor the last to cry out to God for help. Our Lord has faced everything we face or will faced, and he understands us better than we understand ourselves.
Prayer: Lord, we know we have duties as Christians and citizens of a broken world. Remind us daily of those duties and help us to sow seeds of love and peace wherever we find ourselves.
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.