Tag Archives: Christmas

The Lap of God

Nearly forty years ago my wife-to-be introduced me to an image of God that has shaped my life ever since.  She wrote me a letter in which she described how God as king invited me into his great heavenly throne room. She described the room as filled with the beauty and wonder fit for a king and how at first I felt overwhelmed.  God then encouraged me to come right up to the throne (like a small child approaching his beloved parent).  With great love and warmth, God’s mighty arms picked me up and placed me on his lap, where I am safe, warmed and filled with love.

I think of that image each Christmas when we read from the beginning of John’s gospel and the coming of the Word of God, Jesus.

But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, (John 1:12)

Madonna and JesusI also imagine the inverse of the image when I read the Christmas story of Luke, when Jesus is wrapped in clothes and laid in a manger.  I don’t think the infant Jesus spent all his time lying in that manger.  Like any proud parent, Jesus was held in the lap of Mary and Joseph.   Not only are we invited to sit in God’s lap, but God invites us to hold his son when we hold a child of God in love.  As Jesus reminded his followers in his parable from Matthew 25,  And the king will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’

The image blazed with light again this past Sunday when I worshiped with my son and daughter-in-law at Christ Presbyterian Church.  Their evening service, called the Table, normally has communion, but for the fourth Sunday in Advent they had a candle lighting ritual instead.   On the platform steps there were placed over a hundred small votive candles and lighting sticks.  We were invited to come forward and light a candle as a sign that we are “waiting” for our savior.   I lit a candle with the rest of the family, but I noticed that my son did not return to the pew afterwards.  A few moments later my wife nudged me and pointed to the candles.  My son had returned to the sanctuary with our 2-year-old grandson, Jack.  My son was helping Jack light a candle.   Afterwards he and Jack came back to the pew and Jack opened his arms for me to hold him.  As we sang a Christmas carol of Emmanuel, God with Us, I felt tears of joy and grace fill my eyes and flow down my cheek.   I was being held in the lap of God, even as I was embraced by a tiny child of God.  O the wonder of God’s grace.

My wife Carolyn and I hold in our laps two children of God, Grace and Jack.

My wife Carolyn and I hold in our laps two children of God, Grace and Jack.

May you be held by the love of God in this Christmas season.

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Advent Conspiracy: Spend Less

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Advent starts immediately after Thanksgiving; so does all the hoopla of Christmas shopping.

Growing up I was blessed to be part of a traditional yet wonderful Thanksgiving celebration. First my family would go to church in the morning, sing hymns, and offer prayers of thanks to God. Then we would come home for the fantastic meal of turkey, stuffing, sweet potato casserole, fresh-baked rolls and all the goods. Then after the meal we would take a break, either play a family board game or watch a football game before we ate the most delicious pumpkin pie. It was a wonderful, joy-filled day.

But it all changed when I entered Junior High. Oh we still had the church service, and the huge delicious family meal. We would still take a break prior to the pie. But instead of playing a board game or watching football, I had work to do.

Paper BoyI had an afternoon paper route for the local paper.

Normally my five mile route was manageable on my bicycle; the paper was only 24 to 32 pages and fairly light and the total load of 100 plus papers was not overwhelming.

But on Thanksgiving day, that all changed. The paper always swelled to over 100 pages due to all the advertisements. Every store in town had ads or inserts for the biggest shopping day of the year: The Friday after Thanksgiving; Black Friday.

But did I care about all those ads? Not a bit, since it only made folding and delivering my 100 plus papers so difficult. I grew to hate all the advertising hoopla that kicked off the Christmas Shopping frenzy. As I made the trek around the neighborhood, I wondered what all that shopping frenzy actually bought?

On average, each American spends over $700 on Christmas presents. That is nearly 200 billion dollars. The next question: What is one gift you remember getting for Christmas last year? Next question: what about the fourth gift? Do you remember that one? Truth is many of us don’t remember because it wasn’t something we necessarily wanted or needed.

AC_Spend_ICONAdvent Conspiracy challenges us to rethink our Christmas shopping frenzy. Spending Less is not a call to stop giving gifts, it’s a call to stop spending money on gifts we won’t remember in less than a year. So much of our spending goes right onto a credit card which adds a new stress when January’s bill rolls around. By Spending Less, or spending wisely on gifts we free ourselves from the anxiety associated with debt so we can take in the season with a full heart.

Spending Less is an invitation to reconsider what (or who) is at the heart of Christmas. Jesus came into the world to give us life: vibrant, faith-filled life. He did not come to make sure there was large pile of presents under the Christmas tree. He came to set us free, even from the dangers of rampant consumerism.

What would Spending Less look like in your home?

Lord Jesus, help me to keep my focus on you, even as I take out my credit card.

Advent Conspiracy Intro

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The season of Advent begin on Sunday, December 1st. Advent includes the four Sundays prior to Christmas.  This Advent Resurrection Lutheran Church is participating in the Advent Conspiracy.  Too often the season of Advent is a whirlwind of gift-buying and party-preparation that misses out on the centrality of Jesus’ birth. The Advent Conspiracy seeks to reinvigorate the purpose of the season by refocusing our attention on Jesus.

The Advent Conspiracy (AC) was started by church pastors several years ago as a way to keep Jesus central during this hectic season. (You can read about it here)

As the AC states

We all want our Christmas to be a lot of things. Full of joy. Memories. Happiness. Above all, we want it to be about Jesus. What we don’t want is stress. Or debt. Or feeling like we “missed the moment”. Advent Conspiracy is a movement designed to help us all slow down and experience a Christmas worth remembering. But doing this means doing things a little differently. A little creatively.

Christmas Angels

The four Sundays of Advent each have a special focus.

December 1
Worship Fully 

AC_Worship_ICONChristmas marks the moment where God’s promise was fulfilled and love took form, tiny fingers and all. It is a moment that deserves our full attention and praise. We put Worship Fully as AC’s first tenet because we believe the level of our involvement at Christmas is based entirely on how much we are celebrating Christ’s birth. He deserves celebration; one that is creative, loud and directs every heart His way.

For Resurrection we are delighted to welcome Dr. Michael Chan back as he preaches on Daniel 3 and the trust and power of worship.

The other three themes (which will have separate blog posts in the coming weeks) are

December 8
Spend Less

December 15
Give More

December 22
Love All.

What do you appreciate about the season of Advent?

Lord Jesus, deepen my love for you and your people throughout the season of Advent.

Christmas Journeys

The Journey to Bethlehem

The Christmas story is filled with journeys:  Mary’s and Joseph’s trek to Bethlehem, the magi’s visit to the child, the holy family’s escape from King Herod into Egypt.   Even the shepherds had a night hike from the fields to the stable in order to see the baby.    Perhaps we all need to do a little traveling to discover Jesus.

This week my two daughters are traveling home.  Christina flew in Saturday after her first semester at college.  Suzanne will arrive tomorrow from her new home in Bloomington, IN.   I will be glad to have them under our roof for a time; it will certainly add to the Christmas joy.  Yet I know it is temporary; their life-paths are taking them on new adventures that may or may not be in close proximity to Carolyn’s and mine.  I guess that is part of trusting Jesus to guide the way.

I am also remembering one snowy December evening when I was flying home to Washington state for Christmas.   I had been gone a whole year, having worked the summer near my college in Philadelphia.  I had to change planes here in the Twin Cities and a snow storm had shut down the airport.  I was sitting in the terminal, waiting for my Seattle flight, feeling homesick and very much alone.  I wondered if I would ever get home as the snow piled up outside.  As the night got deeper and longer, I thought about Joseph and Mary’s journey to Bethlehem.  How lonely they must have felt, yet God was right there with them.  It slowly dawned on me that God was with me that night as well.  Emmanuel, God with us, is the intimate message of Christmas.   Little did I know at the time, that I would invest more than thirty years in the Twin Cities, discovering God’s presence and power among its residents. 

In what ways have Christmas’ journeys impacted your life?