"What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he loses one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness, and go after the one which is lost, until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, 'Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost!'"
December 23, 2009
Christmas is probably considered one of the most joyous holidays of the year; or at least it should be. It's the time when we remember God sending His Son to earth so that we could have forgiveness of sin and eternal life. It was God's fulfillment of His promise to mankind.
Although that is the ultimate reason for celebrating Christmas, and we keep that in the forefront of our mind, this holiday is also a time for family and for having fun. As long as we remember Jesus, I think that it pleases the Father to see us celebrating and enjoying ourselves.
Too many people try to over-spiritual this season (don't stone me!), and miss the true joy of celebrating the gift of Jesus' birth.
When you go to a birthday party, there is laughter and games and gifts and eating and a festive atmosphere. Everyone doesn't stand around with somber expressions, being quiet and stoic, while constantly focusing upon the one whose birthday is being celebrated. Although that's the main reason for gathering, there is visiting and people interacting with one another. It's a noisy, chaotic, and there is a joyous feeling in the air.
I believe the same should be true for us celebrating Jesus' birthday each year. Although He is our purpose for coming together with family and friends, we should make it a cheerful, fun occasion.
I have to admit that I absolutely love Christmas! It is undoubtably my favorite holiday of the year. Most other holidays you just get to celebrate for one day, but with Christmas, you can celebrate the whole month of December. I love driving around and looking at lights; I love all the Christmas music; I like watching sappy Christmas movies on TV; I love sitting in my living room in the evenings with just the lights of a tree on and the fireplace lit; I love giving and receiving Christmas cards. In fact, I will watch for the mailman each day and run over to my mailbox to look and see if we received any cards in the mail that day. I love the church Christmas programs. I even enjoy trying to figure out the perfect gifts for individuals and the shopping. And yes, I even enjoy receiving presents myself. I like making fudge and special treats. Christmas has never been a drudgery for me. I've never been one of those people who dislike the whole holiday season and can't wait for it to be over. I've always had fun with it and loved it. There is just something very miraculous and special and extraordinary about Christmas that I absolutely love and thoroughly enjoy.
Some of my greatest memories are centered around Christmas.
I remember when my oldest two nephews were probably between 3 and 5 years old and they memorized the entire Christmas story from Luke chapter two. When I was growing up, my mom or someone would always read that passage of scripture before we opened gifts. That particular year, Greg and Brian quoted the story for us. I believe one of my sisters still has a cassette where she recorded them that Christmas.
When I was younger, my mom's family would all get together on Christmas Eve evening and have a Parton potluck supper. It was a time of all the family coming together; uncles, aunts and cousins. Afterwards we would come home and open gifts. Then on Christmas day, we would go to my grandparents house on the Horton side and have lunch with that side of the family. Over the years as the cousins began getting older and getting married and having families of their own, the tradition of the gatherings on both sides of the family ended. But those are very special memories for me.
Many of the area churches would put on a Christmas play each year, and would coordinate dates so that they would be on different nights and you could go watch each others plays. Afterwards each church would give out bags with an apple or orange, nuts, and some hard candy. My sisters and I had a part in our church Christmas play for many, many years.
I remember special gifts received over the years. One year I got a sweater that I had found in a catalog and really wanted; another year I got a Bible and the cover snapped shut; I received a doll that you could squeeze it's stomach and it sounded like it was cooing (I still have it); another year my mom made me a doll with yarn hair and a dress that matched a dress she had made for me (I still have that doll too); then there were homemade dresses, etc.
Even though I have many happy memories of Christmas, there have also been some very difficult years. Probably the hardest Christmas for our family was in 1980, when I was 15 years old. Mama had suffered with cancer for 7 years. She had gradually grown weaker and the cancer had finally filled her whole body. She had been hospitalized that December and her doctor finally sent her home because there was nothing more they could do. Mama wanted to be at home with her family, and didn't want to spend her last days lying in a hospital room. So we moved a hospital bed into one of our bedrooms, she was sent home with pain medication, and we were told to make her as comfortable as possible. The doctor had also told us that he expected that she would only live perhaps another couple of weeks or so.
That Christmas she was lying on the couch while we opened gifts and celebrated our Christmas, but due to the morphine pain medication to help alleviate the pain, she kept drifting off to sleep. Mama was so weak and had lost so much weight by that time. It was very bittersweet because we knew that unless a miracle happened, that would be the last year that she would be with us for Christmas. Two months later on February 22, 1981 she went to be with Jesus.
In September 2007, Daddy also went to Heaven. That year it was hard to know how to celebrate. There was an emptiness in our family and his passing had left a void. Our grief was still fresh. Even though we weren't always able to all get together on Christmas day, we would all call and talk to him. Most of us would then all gather at his house on New Years day, which was also his birthday. For a while after his death, occasionally I would think, "I need to call Daddy and tell him..." Then it would suddenly hit me that he was gone and I couldn't call him.
Many families go through such a myriad of emotions at Christmastime. I know that those first Christmases following the passing of a loved one is especially difficult. It seems like both last year and this year, I have so many family members and friends who have lost children, spouses, siblings, or parents. My heart goes out to them, because I know the grief they feel and how difficult it is to go through the motions of celebrating. There is a hole in your family and it's so hard to get through those first few holidays.
Then there are sometimes family squabbles or hurt feelings that cause division, which makes it difficult during the holidays. When someone is missing, for whatever reason, it's just not the same.
There may be members missing to do overseas service in the military, or living away and involved in ministry or jobs that prevent them from coming home. It may be due to family members that have been imprisoned, or that have left home in rebellion and no one knows where they're at. Hearts can be broken and the sadness can feel overwhelming during the holidays. Emotions can be very fragile.
It's easy during those times to feel that no one understands. Everyone else is laughing and celebrating and having a good time, and you feel despair and want to just lock yourself in your house and not be around anyone.
There is so much in life that I don't understand and I sure don't have all the answers. One thing I do know is that God does care and He does understand.
When God sent His only Son to earth that first Christmas, I imagine that He experienced mixed emotions. On one hand, He was excited that the fulfillment of His promise of a Messiah to save all mankind from their sins was finally happening. In fact, He sent angels to a group of shepherds to proclaim the glad tidings of Jesus' birth. He had formed and created Jesus while He was in Mary's womb, and now the hour had come for Him to be born. How God's heart must have swelled with pride and been filled with so much joy!
During the next few years, God watched as Jesus played and ran around the house. He saw His Son take His first step and cut His first tooth. He watched as Jesus went to school for that first time. God watched Him learned the craft of carpentry and help Joseph work. Then later He watched as Jesus began growing in spiritual wisdom and taught others that first time at the age of 12. God saw when Jesus hit His thumb with a hammer, when He got an "A" on His spelling test, watched as He went through those gawky teen years where He was awkward and He was growing so fast that Mary was having a hard time keeping him in sandals and clothing that fit. He saw Jesus mature into adulthood and start His ministry; and gave Him wisdom to choose each of the twelve disciples. God was there to watch every second of every day of His Son's life.
But on the other hand, God's heart must have been very heavy. He knew the criticism and mocking that Jesus would have to endure. He knew that men would seek to kill His Son. God also knew that there would be many who would reject Jesus as the true Messiah. He knew that the day would come when Jesus would be arrested, tried, flogged, mocked and nailed to a cross. God knew the humiliation and suffering His only Son would have to endure.
So even though God was overjoyed at the birth of His Son as He was sent to earth, He also knew the purpose for which Jesus had been sent. God knew that Jesus would have to face rejection, ridicule, pain, suffering and death.
That's much like our lives. There is rejoicing when a baby is born and much celebration. Parents hope that their children will grow to live a full life, be healthy, and outlive them. But no one knows their number of days upon this earth; which at times, can makes it difficult for family and friends. When we celebrate Christmas, we assume that next year we will all once again be together. But we have all lost loved ones, and have experienced those years when we have family members missing; sometimes with warning and sometimes very unexpectedly.
That doesn't mean that we should live in fear. But what it does mean is that we need to make the most of each day we have with our loved ones. Celebrate and enjoy holidays together. Don't get so wrapped up with spending and doing and busyness, that you end up being stressed and exhausted, and don't even enjoy the time spent with your family and friends. Instead, cherish each special occasion and celebrate!
There may be years in which you are grieving or are overwhelmed with circumstances; but know that it won't last forever. God will give comfort and strength, and the day will come when you can laugh and thoroughly enjoy life and holidays once again. You will be able to remember the good and not just the sorrow. Instead of feeling overwhelmed by your situation or grief, you will recall those wonderful memories and laugh again.
Whatever this Christmas may bring, know that God loves you and is with you. If your heart is heavy, then allow God to hold you close to His heart and infuse you with His love and strength. If you are going through a time of health and happiness, then celebrate life to the fullest and enjoy the holiday. Enjoy each moment with your loved ones. Laugh, live and love!
Most importantly, remember the gift that God has given us all. Take time to thank Him for the true reason that we celebrate Christmas. Remember Jesus and Him coming to earth so that we can all have forgiveness of sin and the hope of eternal life. What a gift!!
The King James version of The Bible, Luke 1:30-33 says, "And the angel said unto her, 'Fear not, Mary: for thou hast found favor with God. And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name JESUS. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David: and he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end.'"
I can only imagine what Mary might have been thinking. First of all, "Wow! What an honor!"
But then, in that culture to be with child before she was married, she must have been terrified. Fortunately, her cousin, Elisabeth and her husband, Zacharias, would be somewhat understanding (the same angel came to Zacharias and promised them a son). And her fiance would be told later that Mary's son was the Son of God. But Mary didn't know that, yet.
The angel had told her "Fear not". I don't really know whether she managed to fear not. I do know it's awfully hard not to fear in many situations. God had it all taken care of. He even had a place for them to hide from Herod. The wise men from the east might have been on the way toward them by that time (even if they weren't on the way, the sign in the stars was). The Bible doesn't really say how much gold, etc., they would bring to Jesus, but it was probably enough to take care of them for quite a while. The point here is that God had everything under control.
Often, we have times when we are supposed to "Fear not". It's hard when we don't know what is around the corner. We can know that God has it taken care of.
(This is people food and not for dogs!)
1/2 cup peanut butter
1/4 cup butter
1 cup chocolate chips
1/2 tsp. Vanilla
9 cups Crispex or Chex cereal
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
Combine peanut butter, butter and chocolate chips in a microwave safe bowl. Microwave for 1 minute; stir. If it's not completely melted, microwave for another 30 seconds. Add vanilla and stir again until all is well blended.
Put cereal in a very large bowl. Pour mixture over cereal and gently mix to coat. Coat with powdered sugar.
**Tip: An easy way to coat with powdered sugar: Put the coated cereal in a large paper bag. Add the powdered sugar. Fold down the top and shake the bag to evenly coat.
Store in a tightly covered canister or bowl.
Growing up in the country was awesome!! One particular winter we got several inches of snow; seems like it was 12-15 inches. On our family property was an old road that went from the edge of our yard down to the holler. It was fairly steep, but at that time was still in fairly good condition. We had an old car that had been wrecked. My dad had pulled the car down over the hillside; after all, that's what you do in the country! Ha. Two of my brothers-in-law took one of the seats out of the car and turned it upside down and we used it as a sled. I believe we also used a couple of truck inner-tubes as sleds. All of my sisters, my two brothers-in-law and I spent the whole afternoon sliding down the hill on that old car seat and inner-tubes, and absolutely had a blast!! We still talk about that day; and it's something we'll never forget. Sometimes it's not having the best of everything, but being inventive and using what you have that makes things so much fun and memorable.
Another time, a few years back, we had received a huge snow right before Christmas. Those of us who could, got together at Daddy and June's. Below their house was a huge flat field. A brother-in-law brought his 4-wheeler over. He used bungee cords and tied an inner-tube and a plastic sled behind it. One of my sisters and the kids and I spent the afternoon riding on those as he pulled us around in a big circle in the field. After the snow got packed down some, it was almost impossible to stay on as he rounded a corner; although he really couldn't go fast in the deep snow. It became a challenge to see who could stay on the longest without flying off into the snow. It was a day filled with a lot of fun and laughter.
Sometimes it's fun to just act like a kid and play!!
This Christmas focus less on the presents and more on His Presence! (unknown)
We pray that each of you have a Merry Christmas!
Loretta & Jon