Tag Archives: Christmas

Merry Messy Christmas!

img_0047Chestnuts roasting on an open fire? Not at our house. Jack Frost rarely nips at our nose (nor do we ever dream of a white Christmas), since we live in Florida. A few Yuletide carols may be sung by a choir at our Christmas service, but since Trinity is a non-traditional, contemporary church, even that’s debatable.

We will have a turkey this year, but no mistletoe and no tiny tots hanging around with their eyes all aglow. Just a Jon who gets up when he feels like it and takes five hours to open ten gifts.

According to this picture perfect Christmas song, our chances for a Merry Christmas are poor indeed. We score about one and a half out of five.

Are you feeling it right now because your Christmas isn’t Hollywood perfect? Cheer up, the first one wasn’t any better:

An unwed, teenage mother.
No baby shower, but plenty of rumors.
A disgraced marriage.
An annoying, inconvenient, tax-registering trip.
A baby born in a barn (with no nurse, diapers or cradle).
Scruffy shepherds as newborn visitors.
A jealous king sending out spies and assassins.
An emergency escape by night to another country.

The truth of Christmas is that God willingly jumped over-His-head-deep into the chaos of earth’s struggles. The First Christmas was so…human. It was scandalous. It was messy. It was so earthly, many passed right on by. And because His arrival seemed nondescript to most, people missed its significance. And still do.img_0048

If it’s not “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year” for you and a Norman Rockwell or Thomas Kinkade Christmas depiction is not happening where you are; happiness disregards you, money is tight, relationships stressed, someone deeply loved is gone and greatly missed, or possibly your only Christmas wish this year is for yourself or a sick loved one to heal, there’s no need to collapse in despair. No need to feel alone. No need to be paralyzed with fear.

Real life doesn’t stop for Christmas.

BUT!

Christmas came to invade every detail of our messy human existence and inundate whatever is occurring in our personal universe at the moment.

God came to us as one of us and He understands. He will walk with us through it all if we let Him. Stop, surrender and make room for Him this Season.

And have yourself a Very Merry Messy Christmas now!

“Christ, by highest heaven adored;
Christ, the everlasting Lord;
Late in time behold him come,
Offspring of the Virgin’s womb.
Veiled in flesh the Godhead see;
Hail the incarnate Deity,
Pleased as man with man to dwell;
Jesus, our Emmanuel!
Hark! the herald angels sing
Glory to the newborn King!”

 
Home For the Holidays – painting by Norman Rockwell, 1950
Christmas Cottage – painting by Thomas Kinkade, 1990                                                                         “Hark The Herald Angels Sing,” Charles Wesley, 1739

Jon’s Grownup Christmas List

jonJon doesn’t ask for anything for Christmas. He might circle a movie or toy in a Christmas sale flyer he finds hanging around the house occasionally, but if you ask him what he wants you won’t get an answer.

Here’s a list of some gifts Jon received for Christmas this year:

Two Tom and Jerry cartoon DVDs

Two large print, word-find books

A pink spiral notebook with a heart on the front (yeah, he likes pink)

A McDonald’s gift certificate

A Wendy’s gift certificate

A dollar store gift certificate

$20 worth of one dollar bills

A box of Goldfish Crackers

Two superhero puzzles

A bar of money soap (a hint to take a shower Jon, please)

A plastic toy grabbing tool thing

Play money in a cash drawer

A plastic police badge

An orange plastic police vest

Our Christmases with Jon aren’t typical and are probably best described as slow, quiet and even a bit boring. But, with the passing of each year,  I appreciate more and more, the gift he is to us; all the ways he keep me grounded, continuously reminding me of what really matters.

Especially at Christmas.

Sometimes I’m struck by the simplicity of his life.

Sometimes I’m envious of it.

Sometimes I’m sad for the classic milestones he will never experience.

Most of the time I don’t think about it at all.

I just love him for who he is as he slowly opens, inspects, then carefully packs all his presents into a gift bag and carries them off to his room, adding them to the collection of items I’ll need to clear off the floor next time I vacuum.

You may not have a Jon, but I pray you have something, someone or a moment in this season to insert a slow down and reflection, on the most important treasures of life; a God who proved in the very event of Christmas, He accepts you with a love undeserved. And the people in your life, who stick around for the long haul, willingly to jump, head first if necessary, into every joy and sorrow.

Merry Christmas and a blessed New Year to all!

Oh No! Home Alone!

homealonemomJon’s all time favorite movie is “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory”. Following close behind is “Home Alone”.

Our first adventure with “Home Alone” started in the mid-nineties when we rented a copy, sometime during Jon’s early teen years.  After watching the movie, with its many theft prevention traps, Jon took it upon himself to become our personal security system. We lived in a three story house in New Hampshire at the time and Mike had finished the basement as a playroom for the kids. In the back corner of the basement was a door we rarely used and it opened to stairs leading back up to ground level and into the garage.

I went to the basement to throw in a load of laundry one day and realized I needed to go out to the garage for something. Rather than go back upstairs and out the door off the kitchen, I opened the basement door and experienced a brief moment of horror as I watched the kid’s blue plastic snow sled, loaded with paint cans, come hurdling toward me. I screamed and slammed the door shut just in time to hear the thump, crash, bang of full and half-full gallon cans pile up against it on the other side.

Jon had placed the sled at the top of the stairs, lined it with the paint cans he’d found stored on shelves in the garage and tied the sled’s rope to the basement door knob. Although a great idea if an intruder was already in the basement, it wasn’t about to keep one out. But It was genius and imaginative really, with no thought of consequence to the people he lives with, which has always been one of Jon’s great deficits.

We went though a phase of trepidation and alertness, following this “Home Alone” viewing. We would find small toys lining the stairways, door knobs drenched in cooking oil, dish soap or shampoo, marbles and jacks on the floor in front of or behind closed doors, a half dozen eggs lined up on the garage door bracing; when the door went up eggs dropped to the floor or on the car. It was unnerving

We let Jon watch the movie again when he was in his late twenties thinking he may have matured enough to distinguish its fantasy from reality. The booby traps reappeared immediately.

The other night Jon’s caregiver told me Jon was reciting “Home Alone” movie lines to her. When I came out to the kitchen the following morning, all the Christmas balls had been removed from the mini-tree adorning the corner of the breakfast nook and were lined up under the window. There’s shampoo or something slippery coating his bathroom doorknob again, a curtain rod blocking the entrance to his room like a swinging railroad crossing gate on one end and dresser drawers blocking the door to his room on the other end.

Jon is not allowed to watch “Home Alone”. We don’t keep it in the house, but I’m thinking he’s found segments of it on YouTube and this is not good news. While the movie may be a classic family Christmas comedy, it’s off limits in our universe.

If you like us even a little bit, please don’t give him a copy for Christmas. And if you stop by, be vigilant. You could very well be Jon’s next “Home Alone” victim.

Are You Ready For Christmas?

wreathAs the calendar counts down to Christmas Day, I’m asked this question everywhere I go, “Are you ready for Christmas?”

The nuance of this question is understood in American culture to mean: is the wreath hung, the tree decorated, the lights and garland strung? Is the gift list shopped and wrapped, are the cards mailed and the cookies baked. Has every pageant, program and party been attended and have fixings been purchased and prepared for the holiday feast?

Have I made my list, checked it twice and run myself ragged until I’m not nice? Am I so weary when Christmas comes, all goodwill fades and I am undone?

If Christmas is only about the doing, I might as well cross it off the calendar. If all the external tradition and trappings, of the picture perfect Christmas were removed, could my heart still find joy in the season?

There were many who were not ready for Christmas when it first arrived.

It was a busy time. Caesar had called for a tax census and people were suddenly traveling to their place of birth, juggling finances for the trip and tax, waiting in long lines to register and complaining about the latest greed and ineptitude of the government.

Except for a group of Wise Men and a few Shepherds, most folks were inconvenienced, impatient and unprepared.

The Religious Leaders weren’t ready.

King Herod wasn’t ready.nativity

The Inn Keeper wasn’t ready.

The Town of Bethlehem and its many visitors weren’t ready.

An entire population of people missed a momentous event going on in their own backyard.

The Christ of Christmas had come, but there was so much to do and no time to notice.

Jesus came and Emmanuel, God With Us, is still here.

Do I recognize Him? Have I taken time to notice?

Those who understand the real meaning of Christmas should be ready everyday, any moment, all the time.

I’m ready for Christmas.

Are you?

John 1:10-14 “He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God. The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.”

What’s Wrong With My Christmas?

Here it is two weeks before the big day and I’ve managed to hang a wreath on the front door.

That’s it.

Mike and David brought the tree down from the shelf in the garage after Thanksgiving and it stayed on the front room floor in the storage bag for over a week.

It’s been upright in the usual family room spot for four days now, with lights attached but only because they are built into the tree, certainly not because I put them there.

Christmas cards were just ordered two days ago. I hope they come in time.

I’ve done very little shopping and honestly I’m just not feeling it this year – all the external trappings of the Christmas Season.

When our boys were young there was an air of excitement as Christmas approached. I reveled in the cooking, shopping, trimmings, secrets and anticipation.

And I was a perfectionist.

I tried to teach the kids how to decorate the tree so it looked balanced. You know, all the holes filled in between branches and ornaments symmetrically displayed all the way around.

I think about that now and hope I didn’t take all the fun out of it.

Packages were wrapped in matching paper with homemade bows and hand designed gift tags.

Christmas dinner was a Thanksgiving repeat – huge and amazing.

Mike’s self appointed job has always been to put up the tree, make sure the lights work, then sit on the sofa and watch the kids and I embellish it.

He stopped helping me hang ornaments after our first Christmas together, as I came behind him and moved every ornament he put on, to a different place.

Now, I think I’d be thrilled if he and Jon hung all the decorations on the same side of the tree while I sat and watched.

When I ask Jon, my perpetually moody, thirty-plus-year-old-teenager if he’d like to help, he looks at me like I have three eyes in the middle of my forehead and walks away. (He will, however, be very interested in opening the gifts underneath this undecorated tree. :) )

David and Clara won’t be here for Christmas. They’re going to be with her family this year (as they should), so no incentive there.

Someone please tell me I’m not turning into a Grinch or maybe Scrooge!

The good news, in my tale of Christmas woe, is the Jesus of Christmas is dearer to me than ever.

We have come to the end of another year and my heart is decorated with blessings, warmth and the joy of His overwhelming love.

Life is not perfect. There are struggles, frustrations and annoyances, but Jesus has been and will continue to be my faithful friend and gentle shepherd.

As we celebrate this season of His Earth arrival, my heart grows two sizes larger at the thought of a Savior who came for me.

To rescue. To strengthen. To comfort. To cleanse. To change. To love.  ME.

So whether the halls are decked or not, that’s enough to make even this Grinch, want to celebrate!

Matthew 1:23 “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel (which means‘God with us’).”

 

A Merry Imperfect Christmas to All!

This past week the decorating of our Christmas tree was (finally) completed, shopping was almost finished, packages were mailed out to family in far away places, we attended several fun Christmas parties and I miraculously got Jonathan out the door in time to participate in his Christmas gathering with the Joyful Noise group that meets on Tuesday afternoons.

Also in the past week, our refrigerator quit working, the kitchen sink plugged up (plumber required), my sewing machine broke in the middle of a Christmas sewing project I was working on and I haven’t sent out a single Christmas card because I always make our cards and my printer isn’t working.

Christmas is coming and stuff still happens. These are minor and trivial irritations compared to what others are facing this season so I will choose to be calm and thankful while we repair or replace our material goods and mourn with and pray for those who have losses they can never replace.

Let’s keep our expectations for the “perfect” Christmas in proper perspective this season. I’m doing myself a small favor for the next week. For a few moments every night I’m going to turn on the tree lights and some Christmas music, take a few deep breaths and relax with a cup of tea and my feet up. And while I’m sitting there, I will be thanking the Lord for all that is good and right in my life, all that I am blessed with and by, but most of all, for sending the Light Of The World to give me salvation, hope and peace whenever I reach out to receive it. 

Won’t you join me?

John 1:9-12 The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God

God With Us

We had been married one year when we moved from our hometown in upstate New York to Oregon where Mike attended college. That Christmas in 1976, far away from everything familiar, we were poor, newly married students on an incredibly restricted budget.

I found a job, in a craft store and with access to do it yourself supplies at a discount, purchased molds, cold plaster and acrylic paints. We made our own Joseph, Mary, Jesus, Shepherd Boy, sheep and Wise Men and I painstakingly painted each piece as Mike made a rough stable out of scrap wood and tree bark. Many years later, though chipped and glued in places, this nativity still reminds us of our Savior’s humble beginnings as well as our own. 

Once again, the nativity set has been brought from its’ box in the storage closet. As I carefully unwrap each figure, memories of thirty-some Christmases flood my mind and tug at my heart. My nativity is cozy and serene, as most of us imagine it; Mary and Joseph smiling in a perfectly clean barn, the baby cooing happily inside a soft pile of straw while shepherds and wise men mull about whispering prayers of devotion and words of adoration over the child as sheep stand guard near the manger.

I put all the figures in their customary place and begin to wonder how many times I have missed the stark reality of the birth of Jesus with my comfy stable scene. Although there were many wonderful and miraculous moments surrounding the birth of Jesus, maybe it’s about time for a Christmas reality check.

Here is a small sampling of what the first Christmas really looked like:

•Mary, a young woman losing her reputation as a virgin, in a time when women were killed for doing so, then trying to convince her family, friends and neighbors that it was God’s doing. “Sure Mary, now we’ve heard everything!”

•Joseph, a man preparing to bring home a bride in all the tradition, honor and celebration of a Hebrew engagement and wedding, suddenly faced with the shock that she had been unfaithful to him. Under the circumstances, they probably had to forgo the joyful wedding celebration they had been planning and marry quietly.

•The shame and reproach on both families, as Mary’s belly became obviously large, with everyone believing the couple did not have the proper restraint to wait and had to fabricate an outlandish story to cover their indiscretion.

•A long and difficult trip, from Nazareth to Bethlehem to pay taxes (About 80 miles, most likely walking or on a donkey, while pregnant. And we complain? At least we can pay ours by mail or online).

• Giving birth to their first child in a stable far from home and away from the support and help of family and friends.

•Running for their lives to Egypt when they hear of King Herod’s plan to find and kill Jesus.

Jesus arrived on this earth right smack in the middle of every circumstance and emotion we experience:  reproach, shame, gossip, fear, worry, difficulty, uncertainty and inconvenience. 

There must have been moments when Mary wondered if she heard right. Is this really God’s Son or was I dreaming about that angel? Shouldn’t having God’s child should make life easier, bring less pain, heartache and difficulty? 

No. The ultimate plan was for Immanuel to truly be God With Us in every way possible. Our peaceful nativity scenes and misconceptions of the first Christmas often cause us to overlook the incredible human difficulty and divine sacrifice of this event.

Christ came in a way so opposite of what the people of his day envisioned, most did not recognize him.  The prophets had long foretold the coming of the Messiah and every Hebrew boy and girl understood He could come in their lifetime.  But they, like us, with limited comprehension of God’s ways, pictured Him arriving in the way all kings come, born of royalty into a physical kingdom, reigning from a palace and conquering over every evil ever perpetrated against God’s chosen ones. 

They did not understand His kingdom was one of righteousness, peace and joy and only those of great faith knew He had arrived at all.

Our own culture tends to paint Christmas as some dreamy, romantic, Hollywood event with ‘Chestnuts roasting on an open fire’, ‘Walking in a winter wonderland’ and ‘From now on our troubles will be miles away’, threaded through the songs we love.

We dream of smiling families dressed in their holiday finest, crooning words of encouragement and love to each other around an elaborate dinner table or Christmas tree and well behaved children patiently waiting to open another gift, saying thank you every time another round of wrapping paper is removed. 

Media and advertisers make Christmas a feel-good occasion too, creating euphoria and lofty expectations, then when our own experience doesn’t measure up to these illusions, we are completely deflated and depressed.

Christmas isn’t about a romantic, nostalgic feeling, as wonderful as that may be, but about Jesus diving into our chaos and shame to rescue us and show us a better way to live. He came to this planet, wore a robe of skin and traveled from the nativity to the cross so we would know without hesitation; God is with us, always and in everything.

Whatever life throws at us also belongs to Him. He has tasted, felt and touched it so we can trust Him in and with all of it. 

Immanuel, God with me and you!

Matthew 1:23  “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”).