Labor of Love

Dec. 8, 2011

Luke 2:4-7

So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.

Andrew Peterson wrote a Christmas song called “Labor of Love.” Here are the words:

It was not a silent night

There was blood on the ground

You could hear a woman cry

In the alleyways that night

On the streets of David’s town.

 

And the stable was not clean

And the cobblestons were cold

And little Mary full of grace

With the tears upon her face

Had no mother’s hand to hold.

 

It was a labor of pain

It was a cold sky above

But for the girl on the ground in the dark

With every beat of her beautiful heart,

It was a labor of love.

 

Noble Joseph at her side

Callused hands a nd weary eyes

There wer no midwives to be found

In the streets of David’s town

In the middle of the night.

 

So he held her and he prayed

Shafts of moonlight on his face

But the baby in her womb

He was the maker of the moon

He was the Author of the faith

That could make the mountains move.

 

It was a labor of pain

It was a cold sky above

But for the girl on the ground in the dark

With every beat of her beautiful heart,

It was a labor of love.

When I first heard this song a couple years ago, it captured me. A labor of love. Wow.

When I went into the ministry, I served as a student pastor for two small, rural congregations. They were very gracious to me. I wasn’t really sure just what I was always supposed to be doing or how to minister to them spiritually. They helped me learn and was tolerant of my mistakes and shortcomings.

A year or two before I began serving them, they had began a tradition. They recreated the nativity story in Gene & Dorothy Barber’s barn. One of the ladies had put together a script, based on the biblical accounts of Christ’s birth. Another woman sewed together beautiful costumes with hats fit for a real king. The unused hay loft in Barber’s barn was turned into a small theatre. Straw bales became the seats. The east end of the barn became a crude stage. Ameatuer lights were hung from the rafters.

With a elementary speaker system, narrators recited the nativity story while actors portrayed the scenes. Mary and Joseph went to the innkeeper with a real donkey. Sheep baaed during the production. The production was portrayed after it was dark in the natural elements. This was a situation when more bodies in the inn was a good thing! Afterwards, everyone warmed up at the local town hall with bowls of steaming chili and hot coffee and lots and lots of Christmas cookies.

This will be the 12th year I will be involved in putting together a “Live Nativity” production. When we moved to the Midland UMC, Rick and I knew the perfect site. A barn just down the road from the church that happened to be owned by a church member would be the ideal spot forMidland’s “Live Nativity.” Like the Barber’s barn,Cal’s hayloft barn is mostly unused – except for one night a year when it becomes our local version of Bethlehem.

For me, the “Live Nativity” isMidland’s labor of love: our re-creation of the birth of Christ offered as a gift to the community. Yep, there are years the barn has been down-right cold. Cast and crew use hand warmers in their gloves and in their boots to keep our extremities warm. Costumes are big enough to go over King Herod’s real-life hunting gear. Angel halos glimmer above pink polertec hats. While we have real sheep, a few ofMidland’s youngest folks become the sheep that are actually with the shepherds when Gabriel surprises their quiet night. These little sheep have sometimes literally rolled around in the straw before the production began and their little white costumes are as covered with straw as the real sheep stationed in pens just off to the side from the stage. A few years, we’ve had a real baby Jesus; sometimes a boy and sometimes a girl.

For many of the cast and crew, our retelling of the nativity in the barn is as close as we’ll ever get to the events that happened in Bethlehem that first Christmas night. One man told me a few years ago that when we host the “Live Nativity,” for him, this is Christmas. It doesn’t get any more real for him than this.

One year when the production was at the Barber’s barn, afterwards we were done with the story, a grandma and her grandson came up to me. The boy was about 4-years-old. He was carrying a wrapped present. Grandma explained to me that when she told her grandson that they were going to a barn to watch how baby Jesus was born, her grandson insisted on bringing a present for baby Jesus. “After all, that’s what the wise men did. So here’s our gift for baby Jesus,” she said. I was touched beyond words. After I was home, I couldn’t help myself. I had to see what a 4-year-old would give baby Jesus. I carefully removed the wrapping paper and uncovered a helicopter. I turned the propellers and though how funny it was the Jesus traveled toBethlehemon a donkey. And now, he’s been given a new form of transportation. I carefully reapplied the wrapping paper and took the gift to the local giving tree. Some little boy got a helicopter that year that really was intended for baby Jesus.

What is the one event during the Advent and Christmas season that exemplifies the true meaning of the season for you? For many, it might be Christmas Eve worship. Maybe it’s driving by a staged nativity scene. For someone else, it might be attending a production of “The Messiah.” If you don’t really have such a tradition, begin one this Christmas. Invite someone to go with you who you might not otherwise do so. Together, discover a local labor of love production that gets right down to the real reason of the season.

If you’re within driving distance of Midland UMC, I invite you to our “Live Nativity.” It is this Sunday night, Dec. 11, at 5 PM. Please arrive at the church (10235 Hwy KP, Mazomanie) by 4:45 PM. You can park at the church and we’ll provide transportation down to the barn. Afterwards, we’ll fill our chilled bodies with bowls of steaming chili back at the church. And you won’t find better Christmas cookies and bars in the county. Oh, dress warm. The barn isn’t heated. Bring a blanket to cover the straw bale seats. And be prepared to be transported back to Bethlehem as we remember Mary’s labor of love for the world.

Dear God: We sing, “How silently, how silently, the wondrous gift is given; so God imparts to human hearts the blessings of his heaven. No ear may hear his coming, but in this world of sin, where meek souls will receive him, still the dear Christ enters in.” May we find a labor of love where we can recall, observe and, remember Mary’s labor of love and your wondrous gift this Advent. Amen.  

Blessings –

Dianne

If you aren’t familiar with “Labor of Love,” go to youtube.com and you can listen to this song.

Even Pillars of Faith Struggle

Dec. 7, 2011

2 Corinthians 11:

Are they servants of Christ? (I am out of my mind to talk like this.) I am more. I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own people, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches. Who is weak, and I do not feel weak? Who is led into sin, and I do not inwardly burn?

I was in 5th or 6th grade. We’d had a lot of snow that December. On Christmas morning, it was bitterly cold. It was not a good day on the farm. Water pipes were frozen, getting a tractor to start was nearly impossible. If I remember correctly, the silo unloader was also under protest. You didn’t know a silo unloader could protest, did you? When it doesn’t cooperate and help feed the cows, I call it under protest.

It was going on noon before we sat down for breakfast and the morning chores still weren’t done. My Mom has this tradition of taking half a grapefruit and inserting a marshmellow and a candycane in the middleof it  for Christmas morning. They are put under the broiler for just a couple of minutes to slighty brown the marshmellow. Along with this, she makes homemade bread shaped like a Christmas tree. We’d help her decorate the tree with icing, red hots and sprinkles to make it look like a real tree.

This is an annual Christmas breakfast tradition that my siblings and I looked forward to. But that Christmas morning, the grapefruit seemed more sour than sweet. The Christmas bread seemed hard and chewy. My Dad was discouraged by all the set-backs from the morning. I’m confident my Mom was tired and running on very little sleep. As we sat in the dining room (which we did only on special occasions) eating breakfast, it was very, very quiet. No one spoke of opening presents. My parents were experiencing financial challenges and I know my Mom had to be creative. My main present was a 12×12 latchhook pattern with a rose on it. I’m sure it cost less than $10. We knew the cow barn still needed to be cleaned and water pipes thawed. Just getting the animals fed and the barns cleaned were going to take most of the day.

No one knows everything you’ve been through but you. No one has ever walked in your shoes completely. Even your spouse, your best friend, your Momma – they aren’t able to get inside your head and understand your emotions.

I wish that I could go back and hear the emotions that my parents and my siblings were experiencing that morning as we quietly ate our Christmas breakfast. What was not supposed to be like every other day of the year was turning out to be just that. For my parents, the morning was probably indicative of the cascading of events which just made their lives seem more and more challenging.

The Apostle Paul is usually quite humble. In this passage, he lets go and shares from his heart his pent-up frustrations. Even the most faifthful of disciples endure great hardship, disappointment and feel let down. “When is enough enough?” Paul is saying. “When am I going to get a break? Others around me have. Isn’t it my turn?”

My mentor shared with me this week how everyone considers Mother Theresa a Christian martyr. She’s only considered one because everyone knew what she’d given up to serve God and God’s kingdom. If her story weren’t as well-known, would it have the same impact? Definitely not. In this sense, to a degree don’t we all want to be martyrs? Don’t we all want someone to know even a bit of what we’re going through? There are good and honest reasons for sharing. We’re encouraged to share our burdens with another so that we don’t become overwhlemed by them. When shared, our challenges and frustrations can become teachable moments for others.

As these days drawing closer to Christmas become more packed, the nights become a bit shorter and we wonder how to accomplish the variety of things we feel compelled to do, don’t we all want someone to recognize what we’re all dealing with? Honestly, it’s not always during the month of December I feel this way. It’s hard for me to admit this. Humbleness is one of my “occasion” spiritual gifts. I don’t always practice it well every day.

Life has a way of smacking us down, even when we’re trying to do everything right. In the Christmas story, Joseph comes to mind. He simply wanted to marry a honorable Jewish girl, have a family, continue working hard and teach his family the proper Hebrew way to live. Instead, his fiance shows up pregnant, he has a wild dream that he should go ahead and marry this girl and call the baby his own. On top of it all, now he has to travel toBethlehemand be counted for a ridiculous census? Are you kidding?

In Matthew 1:19, Joseph is called a “righteous man.” “Righteous, smightous,” I’d be thinking if I were Joseph reading the story about himself from Matthew’s gospel. How I’d like to get inside of his head and hear his emotions. What was supposed to be a wonderful year of his life, was turning into an uncontrollable disaster.

We hear very little about Jesus’ earthly father. But we know he was righteous. Even when the going got tough, he followed God and God’s calling in his life. Even when it would have been eaiser to follow his own path, he hung in there. We know Paul didn’t give up either. Despite his frustrations in this letter to the church atCorinth, he continued his work as a church planter for the early Christian church. And even became a martyr for it.

None of us will probably ever become a Joseph, a Paul or a Mother Thersa. But their stories should inspire us. Without them, we’d never know how even they felt challenged by Christ’s message and call on their lives.

Dear God: Sometimes, we just want someone to recognize and appreciate what we do, especially for your Kingdom. Is this OK? Why do we feel this way? Thank goodness you’ve never stop doing for us even when we forgot to appreciate and say, “Thank you.”

Blessings –

Dianne

 

When It Seems More Like a Blue Christmas

 

Dec. 6, 2011

James 1:17

Everything good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.

For some people, Christmas isn’t holly and jolly. Christmas can be an awful reminder of the death of a loved one, a failed marriage, a fractured relationship, unfulfilled dreams.

While many people are excited to decorate their homes, put together the family Christmas letter and wrap presents, others want to skip the holidays altogether. They can’t wait for Jan. 2nd.

I clearly remember Christmas 2000. Not only was the December that southernWisconsinreceived the most snow on record. It was also the first December my husband Rick lived without his oldest son, Nate. Nate was killed in January 2000. As the one year anniversary loomed as well as the holidays, I remember Rick asking if we couldn’t just skip the entire holiday season.

Oh, so easy for a pastor! Never mind one that is going to seminary full-time, serving two small rural churches, having recently moved and trying to care for her grieving husband of just a few months. I’m trying to get ready for our Christmas Open House at the parsonage, unpack the boxes still sitting in the dining room and write final semester papers. And there are the church commitments: organize the church’s “Live Nativity” and Advent and Christmas worship services! I had more energy in those days!

I gently reminded him that Christmas was going to come no matter what. Yes, we could do things different this year. Long-standing traditions would be changed. We made time to go to the remembrance service the funeral home offered for families who had lost loved ones within the last year. When we got home, we carefuly put the snowflake ornament given to us at the service with Nate’s name on it on our own Christmas tree.

No matter what we did, we knew there would be an empty chair at the Vielhuber Christmas celebration. Going to the cemetary and hanging a wreath seemed like not the right kind of gift. But it was the only gift we could give.

Is there something in your life which causes you to want to hit the pause button before Christmas … or want to fast-forward to January? I spoke of our unperfect Christmases in church on Sunday. As I spoke, I knew that many people’s minds were still trying to get their mind around the loss of one of Midland UMC’s own, Danna Dee Turk. Danna Dee was one of Midland’s regular piano players. In fact, I’ve pretty much resigned to the fact that I’ll be playing on Christmas Eve because we haven’t been able to secure someone else to play. Danna Dee was 64-years-old and died completely unexpected in mid-November. While any death within a congregation is a moment for reflection, her death has touched much of the congregation because her fingerprints were all over Midland.

As I spoke about missing loved ones this Christmas, I had a hard time not looking at Louise, Danna Dee’s best friend. Louise was trying to keep a strong smile on her face. But I noticed that she gripped her great-grandaughter a bit stronger as she held the three-month-old baby in her arms. And I saw her husband’s hand gently hold her shoulder. I saw knowing looks between people and hands gently glide into the hand of the person sitting next to him or her.

It’s very difficult to think of these situations as a “good and perfect gift from above.” What we really want to know is,  “Why?” I’m not going to begin to answer this for Danna Dee or anyone else. What I can encourage you is this: Jesus is the light of the season, who comes to us from the Father of the heavenly lights. This very same Jesus will be with you this Christmas season. He wants to journey with you through the tough days, the sad days, the disappointing days. Don’t worry. Jesus can handle your emotions.

If the context of this devotion describes you, determine a way to celebrate the missing loved one’s life. Whatever your grief maybe this holiday, plan a way to change up your celebration to allow you to celebrate the Christ child’s birth within your limits. Every year as we decorate our tree, we pause, smile and a tear creeps into Rick’s eye as we hang Nate’s ornament. And this is OK.

For those who might not be faced with this situation this Advent, think of someone who is. Make an extra phone call this week. Invite them for a cup of coffee or to a movie. Do something fun and silly with them for no apparent reason. And remind them that Jesus is the light of the season, the one who journies with them in this season of darkness. May the Christ child bring a little brightness to their days.

Blessings –

Dianne

PS – If there is someone who you think would enjoy these Advent Devotionals, please pass along the link and encourage them to sign-up for the daily devotional! Happy Advent!


Dreaming of the Perfect Christmas

 

Dec. 5, 2011

2 Corinthians 12:7b-9

Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a throne in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away form me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

For some crazy reason, we think that it is necessary to have a perfect Christmas; that somehow in this imperfect world, we will create one perfect day. So, we go to great lenghs to shop for just the right gift, have the perfect meal, create the perfect sitting, wishing for 2.5 inches of newly fallen snow with no ice.

Then, Christmas arrives. Someone doesn’t get the gift they really wanted. A toy is broken before noon. Grandpa drinks too much punch and Dad calls Grandma a naughty word.

This week, we’ll look at how imperfect that first Christmas was and how this truly speaks to how we should view Christmas. One thing Christ’s birth should teach us is that perfect wasn’t how it all started.

Luke’s gospel tells us that the baby was placed in a manger after he was born because there was no room for them in the inn. This has lead us to believe that Jesus was born in a stable. More apporpriately, it might have been a cave. Nonetheless, it was a place where cattle lived. Having grown up on a farm, I know whereever there are cattle, this is manure. Stinky, smelly manure. And if it’s the right time of the year, flies aren’t far behind.

Let’s think about this. There was no hand sanitizer at the door. No stainless steal equipment to help deliver the Son of God. No one to make sure lots of warm, clean water was available. No clean gowns to make sure the chance of infection was limited.

Instead, the “nursing” staff might have included a cow, a donkey and maybe some sheep. Probably the only person there to help Mary was Joseph. And her bed might have been soft hay or straw.

A few years ago, I traveled to the Holy Lands. On Jan. 6, when the western church celebrates Ephiphany (the arrival of the magi) and the day the Eastern Orthodox churches celebrate Christmas, we traveled toBethlehem. We visited the Church of the Nativity, which is built over the supposed site of Jesus’ birth. Above the cave is a church, or actually four churches that move from one into another, built hundreds of years ago. As you enter the cave that symbolizes where Jesus was born, you have to stoop down and enter through a small door. Even for someone like me who isn’t very tall, you have to bend over to enter! Then, we went down a stairway and into the cave: a small, two room area. We were told that owners of the cave probably lived in the larger of the two areas (which is about the size of my home office). The animals were kept in the smaller of the two rooms. This might have been where Jesus was born. It’s even smaller than my home office.

A star on the ground represents where Jesus might have been born. As I knelt and laid my hand on the star, I prayed for the Christ child to continue to change my life.

While the cave is covered in marble and cloths and incense burners today, that’s not how it would have been when Jesus was born. It was a place where animals lived. Mary didn’t have an excellent team of caregivers lined up to catch the Son of Man as he entered the world. As a 12-15 year-old girl, imagine the freight and anxiety that was probably more likely a part of her delivery. And Joseph … do we think he had ever delivered a baby before? More than likely, not.

The Apostle Paul wrote these words from 2 Corinthians to the church atCorinth. We don’t know exactly what his ailment was that he speaks of in this passage. People have lots of guesses but no conclussions. What we do know is that this thorn in his flesh was something that kept him from being completely healthy, from living life as he wished. While he repeatedly ask God to remove this imperfectness, it continued to challenge him.

The perfect Son of God came into an imperfect world to help us with our imperfectness. When we have physical ails, Jesus’ grace is sufficient for us. As our lives get thrown into turmoil by challenges and unforseen things, the perfect Jesus will be journeying with us if we look for him. When our personal lives are invaded by things we can’t control, let us not fret or fear or worry. Let us turn to the imperfect barn and imagine the perfect baby that still called it home.

As much as I’d love for perfect Advent and Christmas worship services, celebrations and interactions, I know they won’t be. May God’s grace be more than enough. Ultimately, this is more important than one perfect day.

Blessings –

Dianne

Creative Gift-Giving

Dec. 4, 2011

Matthew 2:11

On coming to the house, the Magi saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.

The concept of gift-giving at Christmas is biblically rooted. When the Magi arrived inBethlehemafter their very long journey, they were prepared to give King Jesus gifts. And so, they presented him with three gifts: gold, frankincense and myrrh. We don’t really know how many wise men visited Jesus, Mary and Joseph. Traditionally, we show three wise men in a nativity scene because of the three gifts given to the baby.

The gifts each represented something for the baby:

  • Gold was used by kings to recognize their royalty. In giving gold, the magi acknowledge that Jesus is the King of Kings.
  • An aromic resin from the Boswwellia tree, Frankincense was used in rituals in the synagogue by the rabbis, the priests. In giving this gift to Jesus, he is recognized as the Highest Priest.
  • Myrrh was used to annoit a body after a person died. It was also given to Jesus as he hung on the cross. This gift recognizes Jesus’ future sacrifice for all humanity.

Like the magi, we continue the tradition of giving gifts at Christmas. Quite often, there maybe someone on your Christmas list that is hard to buy for. Someone who doesn’t really need anything but you’d like to remember them in someway. May I give a suggestion?

Give them a “Happy Birthday Jesus” gift certificate. I’m including a sample certificate with the blog. It allows the person to choose (or you can choose for them) a non-profit or special organization or family that you will give a gift in honor of them.

A few years ago, Rick’s sister, Linda, gave us such a certificate a Christmas. She had made a donation to the Dane County Food Pantry in honor of us. We thought this was a wonderful gift and appreciated her creativity.

I mentioned in another post that Rick and I choose various families, groups and organizations to support rather than giving each other presents. A couple people have mentioned how your family has thought creativly about gifts. I thank you for these comments and thoughts. I pray that these ways will allow us to all be a bit more creative this Christmas. Gifts are good. Personally, I’m encouraged to give gifts to folks who need them much more than I do.

Yes, there are people to give actual presents to. On Friday, Rick and I did most of our Christmas shopping, basically for the grandkis, plus the local giving tree. For those who you struggle in knowing what to give them or maybe someone who might really enjoy a “Happy Birthday, Jesus!” certificate, consider how you might honor them this Christmas.

Blessings –

Dianne

I’ve put together a sample certificate that you can use. Click on this link for a certificate that you can print. Please change as you would like.

Happy Birthday Jesus card

 

 

The ADVENTure of Christmas

Dec. 3, 2011

Isaiah 60:13

The Glory of Lebanon shall come unto you, the fir tree, the pine tree and the box together, to beautify the place of your sanctuary.

A tradition I enjoy using to kick-off Advent is a Hanging of the Greens worship service on the first Sunday of Advent. In this service, we remember the meaning behind the decorations used to festively adorn our churches and our homes. They are symbols of life, joy and hope.

What do the various decorations symbolize and represent? Let’s remember.

The most universal Christmas symbol is evergreens. Early Christians placed them in their windows to indicate that Christ had entered the home. They are called evergreens because they never change color. They are ever-green, ever-alive, even in the midst of winter. For Christians, they symbolize the unchanging nature of our God, and they remind us of everlasting life in Christ Jesus. Various evergreens represent something of Christ:

  • In ancient times, cedar was known as the tree of royalty.  The cedar branch represents Christ’s everlasting reign.
  • Because the needles of pine and fir trees do not die each season, they are signs of eternity and something that lasts forever. They symbolize how the faithful experience eternal life in Jesus Christ.
  • The round wreath, with no beginning and no end, fulfills Isaiah’s message that there will be no end to the Messiah’s reign.
  • Holly and ivy bear berries in the dark, cold winter months. They remind us of Christ’s passion even in the Christmas season. Their prickly leaves remind us of the crown of thorns, which Christ wore at his crucifixion. The red berries represent the Savior’s blood that he shed for us. The bitter bark represents the sour drink offered to Jesus on the cross.
  • Glittering with lights and ornaments, the Christmas tree is the center of most Christmas homes. Lighted Christmas trees help us call to mind the One who brings light to our darkness, healing to our brokenness and peace to all who receive him.

The flower of Christmas, the poinsettia, is the symbol of the Star of Bethlehem. The star-shaped red leaves remind us of the star that shone on the first Christmas. The red flower reminds us of the blood of Jesus our Savior upon the cross.

While Advent comes during the darkest time of the year, for the church, it is the season of light. With the Advent Wreath, we light a candle each Sunday to eliminate the world’s darkness and to witness to the Light of the World – Jesus Christ. As another Advent candle is lit each week, the sanctuary becomes a bit brighter. Darkness retreats as hope moves forward. The flame of each new candle reminds us that something is happening. There is more to come.

One of the most heart-warming expressions of Christmas is the scene in Bethlehemwhere the birth took place. The Nativity scene, also known as the crèche, is THE symbol of Christmas. It illustrates the night of Jesus’ birth and the beginning of his story. Many people were in town, registering for the census. A stable was filled with animals and the sounds of the night. Shepherds, angels, wise men and town’s people came to find the Christ Child.

Since the first Christmas, gift giving has been a part of the season. The Wise Men gave treasures; the Shepherds gave of themselves. Both express the Gift of God in giving Christ as the Savior of the World.

The first Christmas caroling was first done by the Choir of Angels who sang, “Glory to God in the Highest and on earth peace and good will to all people.”

However, the greatest Gift of Christmas is the Gift of God in Christ Jesus. All that we do during this Holy Season points to the expression of God’s Holy Love. Christ came as a babe inBethlehem and is God’s Christmas gift. As Christians, we seek to pass on our Christian heritage to our children and to those who, by faith in Christ, become part of God’s family. Through the work of the Holy Spirit in your and my life, the Christmas Gift continues.

As you decorate your home, your office, your church and other places, remember how these various symbols direct us back to Christ. The ADVENTure of Christmas is not just doing; it’s remembering why and how we have incorporated all of these aspects into Christmas. It also helps us be directed back to the WHO of the season.

Blessings –

Dianne

The ADVENTure of Christmas

Dec. 3, 2011

Isaiah 60:13

The Glory of Lebanon shall come unto you, the fir tree, the pine tree and the box together, to beautify the place of your sanctuary.

A tradition I enjoy using to kick-off Advent is a Hanging of the Greens worship service on the first Sunday of Advent. In this service, we remember the meaning behind the decorations used to festively adorn our churches and our homes. They are symbols of life, joy and hope.

What do the various decorations symbolize and represent? Let’s remember.

The most universal Christmas symbol is evergreens. Early Christians placed them in their windows to indicate that Christ had entered the home. They are called evergreens because they never change color. They are ever-green, ever-alive, even in the midst of winter. For Christians, they symbolize the unchanging nature of our God, and they remind us of everlasting life in Christ Jesus. Various evergreens represent something of Christ:

  • In ancient times, cedar was known as the tree of royalty.  The cedar branch represents Christ’s everlasting reign.
  • Because the needles of pine and fir trees do not die each season, they are signs of eternity and something that lasts forever. They symbolize how the faithful experience eternal life in Jesus Christ.
  • The round wreath, with no beginning and no end, fulfills Isaiah’s message that there will be no end to the Messiah’s reign.
  • Holly and ivy bear berries in the dark, cold winter months. They remind us of Christ’s passion even in the Christmas season. Their prickly leaves remind us of the crown of thorns, which Christ wore at his crucifixion. The red berries represent the Savior’s blood that he shed for us. The bitter bark represents the sour drink offered to Jesus on the cross.
  • Glittering with lights and ornaments, the Christmas tree is the center of most Christmas homes. Lighted Christmas trees help us call to mind the One who brings light to our darkness, healing to our brokenness and peace to all who receive him.

The flower of Christmas, the poinsettia, is the symbol of the Star of Bethlehem. The star-shaped red leaves remind us of the star that shone on the first Christmas. The red flower reminds us of the blood of Jesus our Savior upon the cross.

While Advent comes during the darkest time of the year, for the church, it is the season of light. With the Advent Wreath, we light a candle each Sunday to eliminate the world’s darkness and to witness to the Light of the World – Jesus Christ. As another Advent candle is lit each week, the sanctuary becomes a bit brighter. Darkness retreats as hope moves forward. The flame of each new candle reminds us that something is happening. There is more to come.

One of the most heart-warming expressions of Christmas is the scene in Bethlehemwhere the birth took place. The Nativity scene, also known as the crèche, is THE symbol of Christmas. It illustrates the night of Jesus’ birth and the beginning of his story. Many people were in town, registering for the census. A stable was filled with animals and the sounds of the night. Shepherds, angels, wise men and town’s people came to find the Christ Child.

Since the first Christmas, gift giving has been a part of the season. The Wise Men gave treasures; the Shepherds gave of themselves. Both express the Gift of God in giving Christ as the Savior of the World.

The first Christmas caroling was first done by the Choir of Angels who sang, “Glory to God in the Highest and on earth peace and good will to all people.”

However, the greatest Gift of Christmas is the Gift of God in Christ Jesus. All that we do during this Holy Season points to the expression of God’s Holy Love. Christ came as a babe inBethlehem and is God’s Christmas gift. As Christians, we seek to pass on our Christian heritage to our children and to those who, by faith in Christ, become part of God’s family. Through the work of the Holy Spirit in your and my life, the Christmas Gift continues.

As you decorate your home, your office, your church and other places, remember how these various symbols direct us back to Christ. The ADVENTure of Christmas is not just doing; it’s remembering why and how we have incorporated all of these aspects into Christmas. It also helps us be directed back to the WHO of the season.

Blessings –

Dianne

What’s Behind a Name

Dylan and Big Brother Waylan

Dec. 2, 2011

Isaiah 9:6-7

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. Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever.

On Nov. 22, we had a grandson born: Dylan Richard Vielhuber. He’s pictured here with his big brother, Waylan.

A regular question an expecting couple receives before the baby’s birth is, “What name have you have picked out?” With the help of ultrasound, many parents know the sex of their child and know exactly what they will name the baby before he/she is born. It’s not uncommon for the baby to be called this name by family and friends before the baby arrives.

This summer, I asked our daughter-in-law Courtney if she and Rick’s son, Darran, had picked out a name for the their newest baby. They knew it was going to be a boy. Courtney shared with me that Darran wanted to name him Darran, Jr. She was not for this at all. She offered up Dylan, knowing that Darran wanted a name that ended in “an,” as does Waylan and Darran. Often a baby’s middle name will have significiance and be used because of another family member with that name. Rick now has two grandsons that carry his proper name as their middle name. Darran’s middle name is also Richard.

When the Son of God was going to be born, the name was not left up to chance. Both Joseph and Mary were instructed by the angel as to what to name the baby. The angel told Joseph to name the baby, “Immanuel,” which means “God with us.” Gabriel was clear with Mary that the baby would be called Jesus.

We use a variety of names for Jesus, including Immanuel. In this passage from Isaiah, we’re given several names which the Son of God will be called:

Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Some people may think, “How can one person have so many names? Are all of these references really to the Son of God?”

I believe they are. When you are God and the Son of God, it’s impossible for one name to adequately account for who you are. The variety of names illustrates for us the width, breath and depth of Jesus. It’s OK for folks to hang onto one of these names because that name speaks to you. And don’t be surprised when one name has more meaning for you at some particular period of time.

Think about how we call each other. Rick’s Great Aunt Edith always called him “Ricky,” even while he was in his 50’s. I can hear her say, “How is my little Ricky?” I can tell when someone knew Rick when he was in high school because they will call him “Rich.” (Privately, he says this is his preferred name.) All of his names are a shortened version of his proper name, Richard. Same person, different names, based on various times of a person’s life.

I googled “names for Jesus” to see how many different names there might be. One website listed over 200! Wikipedia distinquished between “names” and “titles.” It said there are two names for Jesus: Jesus and Emmanuel, based on the names share with Joseph and Mary. It listed these as titles: Christ, Lord, Logos (the Word), Son of God, Son of Man, Lamb of God, Second Adam, Light of the World, King of the Jews, Rabbi. Each of these names is a reference or description for Jesus’ role in the world. In this passage from Isaiah, the prophet speaks of Jesus’ role within the government. Certainly, this is indicative of the words chosen to describe Jesus here: Counselor, Peace and Mighty.

Jesus doesn’t get too hung up on what name we use to describe him. Or at lesat that’s what I think. What’s more important to Jesus is whether or not we have a personal relationship with Jesus. The more intimate we feel with a person, the more likely we are to have a special or pet name for that person. Jesus should be no different.

As I write this, I realize that I have a private name for Rick that has meaning and significance between the two of us. Do I have that private name for Jesus? No. Why not? Some people would argue that it is important to keep reverence with how we address God or Jesus. Personally, I think it’s more important to use a term that is meaningful and personal for us. That’s why we carefully pick names for children. That’s why Dylan as a “an” at the end of his name.

During Advent, we’re preparing for the coming of the Christ child. This baby was given very specific names to help us understand his work and ministry while on earth. What is the meaning behind your name? Were you named after someone? Today, make a list of those names or titles for Jesus that you are aware of. Is there one on the list that is particularly more meaningful for you? Why? Is there one that is more challenging for you? What’s the history behind this? Throughout the day, I encourage you to use the name that is most meaningful for you and say it aloud often, as if you were calling out for that person. Just as we love to hear our name spoken, Jesus loves to hear any of his names or titles spoken aloud. May calling out this name bring you a hare bit closer to Jesus this day, this Advent.

Blessings –

Dianne

Needed: Miracle Assistants

Dec. 1, 2011

Luke 1:38

“I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May it be to me according to your word.” Then the angel left her.

Mary was probably 12-15 years-old when the angel Gabriel visited her. Imagine being a teenager and finding out that you’re pregnant out of wedlock. Would your response be, “I’m the Lord’s servant. May it be to me according to your word?” I’m thinking I would have had other choice words first.

A virgin conceiving is nothing short of a miracle. How could Mary ever explain this to her parents and to her finance, Joseph? “The Holy Spirit made it happen” just doesn’t seem viable, even though it really was the truth.

What do you think of when someone mentions “miracle” to you? We often think of a unbelievable healing, a person on TV and we roll our eyes. Unless we hear about the miracle first hand or from a very, very reliable source, we probably don’t buy into it.

But this is an amazing point of Mary’s story: she believed this miracle would happen to her. She accepted the miracle, hook, line and sinker. Was she gulable? We’d like to think there was more bantering between Mary and Gabriel before Mary accepted the news she’d been told. One minute, she was an ordinary Jewish teenager. The next day, she’s leaving for her relative Elizabeth’s house, waiting to see if her belly will grow in due time. And it did. With the Son of God inside.

While the virgin conception is a knock-it-out-of the ballpark miracle, I think we often fail to see that garden variety miracles that regularly happen in our lives. Yesterday, my e-mail account was hacked by someone. If you received an inappropriate e-mail from me, sorry! I’ve had this e-mail account for over 13 years. It’s the only e-mail account I’ve ever had. I think it’s a miracle that it hadn’t been hacked into before now. The birth of a baby is always a miracle. A paycheck automatically turning up in your checking account can be a miracle!

Miracles often require a miracle worker. As Christians, we may attribute God or Jesus as the miracle worker. When a person goes into remission. Money arriving at just the right time. The long awaited baby becomes available through adoption. God also needs miracle workers “assistants” – people who heed the inkling of the Holy Spirit. A timely phone call. Sharing just the right item. A non-hurried cup of coffee with someone who needs a listener.

I’m aware that no miracle in my life will ever be close to the miracle in Mary’s life. Actually, I think there were two miracles when Gabriel came to Mary. The first was the immaculate conception. The second is Mary’s response: “Sign me up. I’ll do whatever it takes.”

There are miracles just waiting to happen all around us. God needs more “assistants” to allow these miracles to happen. Can you, will you say, “Sign me up. I’ll do whatever it takes?”

A great way for us to respond to Mary’s story is to intentionally assist God with miracle production this Advent. We can’t necessarily “make” the miracle happen, but we can be inspired by the Holy Spirit to ease miracles along. But first, we need an attitude which says we’re willing to be signed up and willing to do whatever it takes to be God’s assistants. Without us, potential miracles may never get enacted.

Can you find a miracle this week that you can help orchestrate? And every week (better yet, every day!) throughout Advent? Yep, it would be great if a miracle worker came into our lives and helped us. But then again, Advent isn’t about receiving. God set the protical when God gave. When we allow ourselves to be miracle assistants, it allows for great joy to be released in our lives. We determine whether or not to be the Lord’s servants. My prayer is that lots and lots of miracles will happen this Advent because we were willing to be signed up.

Blessings –

Dianne

 

To do or not to do

Nov. 30, 2011

Isaiah 7:14

Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.

On my to-do list this week is to make a list of all the things I want to accomplish before Christmas. As I’ve been thinking about this list, I’m truly pondering what will “make” it and what won’t.

I ordered a picture Christmas card tonight, so that will make the list. Walgreens is running a great sale through Nov. 30. I had to make a decision. A little shopping, mostly for the grandkids. But I’m re-thinking about people I usually get a gift for. Maybe I won’t get them a gift this year. I hope they understand. I’ve decided that Christmas cookies aren’t on the list this year. I know – almost sacreligious! I’ve decided that I really need to be disciplined about what I put in my mouth before Christmas to avoid becoming the next likely candidate for “The Biggest Loser.” Vegetables have to have a higher priority than peanut butter cups or cut-out cookies. We’ll see if I break down and make the famous “Deaton Santa Claus cookies” right before Chrsitmas or not. Decorations: I’m sure we’ll put some up. I ordered a new set of LED lights for the tree but that’s the only “new” decorations I’m buying this year.

According to the National Retail Frederations, as of 2010, adult consumers spent an average of $830 each on holiday food, decorations and presents. In a two-parent family, that equals about $1,660.

We wonder why Christmas has been hijacked and exploited. Too often, Americans, including Christians, profess alligiance to Jesus but celebrate his birth with an orgy of materialism.

Think about what $1,660 might mean to a charitable organization. Or $830. I know the non-profit that I work for would benefit greatly from either of these amounts … even 25% of the $1,660.

Many years ago, Michael Slaughter, the lead pastor of the Ginghamsburg UMC in Ohio challenged families to take the amount of money they were spending on their family Christmas and spend an equal amount of money on either a needy family or a non-profit donation. If you were spending $1,000 on your family Christmas, then give $1,000 away. I remember mentioning this in church the Advent I heard about this. There were some raised eyebrows and but probably no takers.

The miracle of Christmas doesn’t relate to what presents we buy, who has the coolest Christmas card or whether or not rosettes get made. It’s not even deciding which house looks like the Griswalds. The miracle of Christmas is that a teen-aged virgin gave birth to God’s Son and that he was called Immanuel – God with us. God decided that the world needed redeeming and the only way it would really work is if God’s Son did the redeeming. I’m not quite sure why that was the only possible solution. This was God’s decision and I’m in no position to question God’s solution.

The prophet Isaiah tells us the sign comes through the virgin’s baby. Imagine the responsibility for a teenaged girl to carry and give bith to God with us. Talk about intense and overwhelming! But Mary did it seemingly with respect, humbleness and tact.

Even though the birth took place 2,000 years ago, Immanuel – God with us, continues to be with us today. He’s the reason why we even celebrate Christmas. He’s the miracle of the season. Nothing else. Anything I put on my to-do list before Christmas is measureably insignificant to this miracle. What I need to put on my list is how I might assist in allowing a miracle to be part of someone else’s Advent. More on this tomorrow.

Blessings –

Dianne