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Praying over Christmas cards: A post-Christmas tradition

ChristmasCards.jpg

Copyright by Bob Rogers.

Many people enjoy displaying the Christmas cards that they receive during the holiday season, but what do they do with them after the New Year begins? Stick them in a drawer? Throw them away? Several years ago, my wife Mary and I adopted a simple tradition of praying over our Christmas cards in the New Year.

When we receive Christmas cards, we enjoy looking at them, and then put them in a basket. We place the basket on our dinner table, and sometime in early January, we begin to pray for the people who sent each card, one card at a time, one week at a time. Here’s how we do it: On Monday evening when we sit down to eat dinner, we draw a Christmas card from the basket and look to see who sent it. We share memories of that person or family, and needs they may have. Then as we say the blessing for our meal, we include that household in our prayers. We pray for them at each dinner that week. The next week, we draw the next card from the basket, praying for that family each day of that week. We continue the process throughout the year, and sometime in the fall we empty the basket, as we finish praying for all of the people who sent us cards. Then the basket is ready to refill during the next Christmas season!

Many times we have drawn a card and prayed for somebody at just the time that we know that person has a special need. At other times, we have prayed for them with no idea what they are going through, only to learn later that the timing was perfect. Of course, there is no bad time to pray for another person! This simple tradition has been a blessing to us, too. During the busy Christmas season, we have little time to savor each Christmas card when we first receive them, but later in the year, we have a whole week to reflect on each and every one. It’s an easy and meaningful tradition that you could adopt in your own home.

 

 

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Guest blog: Why We Don’t Do Elf on the Shelf

ElfOnMarshmellows

(This guest blog is written by my daughter, Melissa Rogers Dalton. She and her husband Steven have two sons and live in Virginia, where she is an elementary school teacher, with an endorsement as a Reading Specialist.)

Article copyright by Melissa Rogers Dalton

When I first learned about the idea of Elf on the Shelf a few years ago, I was completely sucked in. I didn’t have any kids yet, but the idea of setting up an elf with all of these great little tricks greatly appealed to the prankster inside of me that has become dormant since my college days.

I mean, how cute are these!

Once Keagan was finally old enough to enjoy it, I brought it up to Steven and he immediately shut it down. He knows that I have a tendency to get overly involved in things like this and could picture me staying up way too late every night trying to concoct the perfect scheme for the next morning. Yeah, he knows me way too well… 😉

But over the past two years, I’ve decided he was right to say no for a completely different reason.

Teaching our children that they have to be good in order to receive gifts is completely opposite of what the gospel preaches and, therefore, goes against everything Christmas stands for.

You see, Jesus was sent to Earth because we couldn’t find our way back to God on our own. He is our Rescuer and Redeemer, and there is NOTHING we can do to earn his gift. Actually, the definition of “gift” says “a thing given willingly to someone without payment; a present.”

So this whole myth about Santa and his naughty or nice lists really should disappear.

I’m sure some well-meaning parent created it somewhere along the line because kids at this point of the year start going a little crazy, but we have to put an end to it. Even as adults, we struggle with remembering/understanding that our actions are not the path to heaven. Just listen for two seconds, and you’ll hear it all around. I had a coworker tell me just a few days ago that she was going to hell for saying something mean about someone else. Technically, yes you can, but stopping it isn’t going to get you to heaven either.

All we have to do is realize that we are beyond unworthy, but God sent us the perfect gift of His son to come, live, and ultimately pay the penalty for our sins with His life so that we could be reunited with Christ someday. Then we just accept that gift by choosing to follow Christ. That’s it. Our works will never be enough.

If you have an elf and want to continue your fun with it, by all means go ahead. I love seeing what creative schemes you create. But PLEASE stop telling your kids that they won’t receive Christmas this year if they don’t behave. Instead, preach the true gospel to them. If you need any ideas for ways to bring it down to their level without missing the importance, I highly recommend the Jesus Storybook Bible.

The reason I like this particular Bible for kids is because they end every story by bringing it around to Jesus and the gospel. It doesn’t matter if the story is about Leah or the actual birth of Christ. They all talk about the Rescuer coming to save us so that kids can understand that everything in the Bible points to Him. They aren’t just individual cool stories that happen to be in the same book.

There is also a FREE Advent Calendar that goes along with this Bible (it includes the actual scripture references as well if you don’t have/want this Bible). I know it may be too late for this year, but I plan on using it next year.

Merry Christmas, and God Bless!

The history of Christmas lights

ChristmasTreeWindow

Copyright by Bob Rogers.

Ever since the star of Bethlehem led the wise men to baby Jesus, Christmas has been associated with lights. For centuries, Christmas lights meant lighting candles.

Lights on trees
The tradition of putting up Christmas lights began with putting candles on Christmas trees. Christmas trees originated in Germany by the 16th century, from several different traditions. Some Germans actually burned an evergreen tree in the town square and danced around it. There is a popular legend that Martin Luther, the German Protestant reformer, began the tradition of putting candles on Christmas trees. The legend says that one crisp Christmas Eve, about the year 1500, he was walking through snow-covered woods and was struck by the beauty of a group of small evergreens. Their branches, dusted with snow, shimmered in the moonlight. When he got home, he set up a little fir tree indoors so he could share this story with his children. He decorated it with candles, which he lighted in honor of Christ’s birth.

Advent wreaths
Whether or not this is true, we know that the Advent wreath was invented in 1839 by Johann Henrich Wichern, a Protestant pastor who worked with the urban poor in Germany. The children would ask every day if Christmas had arrived, so Wichern built a ring with evergreen and candles to candles to light the 24 days in December before Christmas, and large candles to mark the Sundays. Later this was simplified to four candles for the four Sundays, and a Christ candle in the middle for Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. The custom of lighting an Advent candle did not spread to America until a century later, in the 1930s.

Origin of electric Christmas lights
On December 22, 1882, Edward H. Johnson, vice president of the Edison Electric Light Company, displayed his Christmas tree with 80 red, white and blue electric lights bulbs the size of walnuts, at his home on Fifth Avenue in New York City. This was the first time a Christmas tree had been illuminated with electric lights, but the idea spread quickly. Three years later, the White House Christmas tree was covered with electric lights. By the early 19th century, it became popular to put lights on buildings, not just on Christmas trees. In the 1960s, with the construction of so many subdivisions in American communities, it became the custom in American neighborhoods for many families to cover their houses with lights. This custom has spread around the world, and is particularly popular in Japan.
Today, Christmas lights cover waterfronts, caverns, skyscrapers and shopping centers. Some even use synchronized timers to have their lights flash to music. May each light remind us of a star long ago that led to Jesus, the Light of the world!

The wonder of the Christ child

BethlehemStable

Article copyright 2016 by Bob Rogers

Barbara Robinson writes in her book, The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, about a Sunday School Christmas pageant. One child heard from Isaiah 9:6 that the Christ child’s name would be “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” Wide-eyed, she responded, “He’d never get out of the first grade if he had to write all that.”
Perhaps we need to return to this familiar prophetic title with the same wonder of a child. We will see:

As Wonderful Counselor, Christ takes away our gloom.
As Mighty God, Christ takes away our doom.
As Everlasting Father, Christ adopts us all.
As Prince of Peace, Christ takes down the wall.

In the verses before Isaiah 9:6, we see how meaningful this really is…

I. Wonderful Counselor takes away our gloom

Isaiah 9:1 says “the gloom of the distressed will not be like that of the former times.” In this world, we often live in gloom and sorrow, but Christ takes it away. Our Wonderful Counselor listens with compassion, helps us see matters in a new light, confronts us with the truth, and guides us in the right way.

II. Mighty God takes away our doom

Isaiah 9:2 says, “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.” Because of our sin, we are living in the land of death, headed to a sinner’s hell. But the Christ child is more than a sweet baby; He is God in flesh, and able to save us from our sins by His sacrifice on the cross. He came to earth, so that we may go to heaven.

III. Everlasting Father adopts us all

Isaiah 9:4 speaks of the oppression and burdens of the people, who have no one to protect them. But God is a good Father, and His Son Jesus has come to adopt us all. When I say, “adopts us all,” I don’t mean to imply universal salvation; I’m speaking poetically of all who trust the blood of Christ, and then are adopted into God’s family, as if we were blood brothers and sisters. “I will not leave you as orphans,” Jesus promised in John 14:18.

IV. Prince of Peace takes down the wall

Isaiah 9:5 speaks of the blood of war, from which Christ came to bring peace. He takes down the wall of sin (Isaiah 59:2), so that nothing separates us from God (Romans 8:38-39). He takes down the wall that separates us from our brothers and sisters in Christ: “For He is our peace, who made both groups one and tore down the dividing wall of hostility” (Ephesians 2:14).

When missionary Don Richardson was trying to explain the gospel to a remote tribe, they could not understand the incarnation of God in flesh or the atonement of Christ upon the cross. But then he learned that when tribes wanted to make peace, they would exchange children to grow up in the other tribe. That was it! He explained that Jesus is our “Peace Child,” the Son of God, born as a Son of Man to make peace through His flesh.
Isaiah prophesied of the Messiah’s birth long ago. As you celebrate His birth, you can also be born again by faith (John 3:3). Have you?

God’s Christmas letters to you

christmasletters

Article copyright 2016 by Bob Rogers

People enjoy getting Christmas cards and personal letters from old friends at Christmas. But did you know that God has Christmas letters for you, as well? We can easily spell C-H-R-I-S-T-M-A-S from the New Testament:

C- Clay. “We have this treasure in jars of clay” (2 Corinthians 4:7). As amazing as wrapping Jesus’ body in human flesh, is that He passes on the treasure of this gospel to humans to share, in our fleshly “jars of clay.”

H- Humble. “He humbled Himself, taking on the form of a man” (Philippians 2:5-11). Jesus chose to empty His glory for a time, mysteriously humbling Himself in human form.

R- Rich. “He was rich but for your sake became poor” (2 Corinthians 8:9). The Creator of the universe was born in a stable to offer the riches of salvation to us.

I- Image. “He is the image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15). Jesus is God in flesh!

S- Son. “God sent His Son.” (Galatians 4:4).

T- Thanks. “Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift” (2 Corinthians 9:15). No gift you get for Christmas can be better than God’s gift of Jesus.

M- Manger. “And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger” (Luke 2:12.

A- Angel. “And the angel answered her, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you… therefore the child to be born will be called holy– The Son of God'” (Luke 1:35).

S- Savior. “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:11).

 

Four great children’s Christmas books

Parents and grandparents often look for great books to share with their children at Christmas. Here is what I consider to be four of the best children’s Christmas books. One is sentimental, some are humorous, and one will help a child deal with suffering.
AlabastersSong
One of my favorites is Alabaster’s Song: Christmas through the Eyes of an Angel by Max Lucado. It tells the story of a boy who believes he hears the angel on the Christmas tree singing. Then miraculously, the gap-toothed angel appears by the boy’s bedside, a boy like him, and tells him what it was like to sing to baby Jesus. Children of all ages will enjoy this book, but parents, watch out, because you may get a lump in your own throat at the way the story ends.

HowTheGrinchStoleChristmas

In my list of favorite children’s Christmas books, I have to include the classic book that I loved when I was a child, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, by Dr. Seuss. This beloved book has been made into a popular cartoon TV show, that includes the song, “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch.” In recent years, a live-action movie was also made, but I still prefer the cartoon that follows the book word-for-word. It is hard to improve on the whimsical rhyme of Dr. Seuss.

Most readers already know the story, of how the Grinch couldn’t stand the noise that all the “Who’s down in Whoville” made on Christmas morning. So he decided to steal all of their toys on Christmas Eve. What he never anticipated was that they would still sing on Christmas morning without any presents at all. I love the climactic lines:

“It came without ribbons! It came without tags!/ It came without packages, boxes or bags!”/ And he puzzled three hours, till his puzzler was sore. / Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before!/ “Maybe Christmas,” he thought, “doesn’t come from a store./ Maybe Christmas… perhaps… means a little bit more!”

The changed heart of the Grinch has put the word “Grinch” next to “Scrooge” in the Christmas vocabulary of the English language. Every child deserves a chance to hear a parent or grandparent read it to him or her directly from the book, and follow it with a heartfelt discussion about the real meaning of Christmas.

CajunNightBeforeChristmas

My third selection is Cajun Night Before Christmas, by “Trosclair,” edited by Howard Jacobs. This is a regional favorite in Louisiana, but I have read it to children in Georgia who loved it.

Imagine the famous poem, “Twas the Night Before Christmas,” told in the dialect of south Louisiana, with St. Nicholas gliding across the bayou, with “eight alligator a pullin’ a skiff.” Of course, the alligators have French names:

“Ha, Gaston! Ha, Tiboy! Ha, Pierre an’ Alcee’! Gee, Ninette! Gee, Suzette! Celeste an Renee’!”

I have read this story aloud to my family and to children in public schools over the years, and it always produces loud laughter, even among those who aren’t familiar with the Cajun culture. There have been many imitations of this book, such as the Cowboy Night Before Christmas and the Redneck Night Before Christmas. But none have surpassed the originality and pure fun of Cajun Night Before Christmas.

AllIsWell

My final selection is All Is Well: A Story for Christmas, by Frank Peretti. Peretti is the best-selling author of the Christian thriller This Present Darkness, but he is also the author of one of the most touching Christmas books for children that I have ever read.

All Is Well is different from other children’s Christmas books for several reasons. It is on the reading level of an older child, perhaps about fifth grade. It is on the emotional level of a single mom who is struggling to make ends meet at Christmas. The story takes place in July, not during the Christmas season. Yet is most certainly a Christmas story, especially for those who going through tough times during the holidays.

If you are looking for a cute Christmas book for your child, this is not your book. But if you need encouragement to make it through Christmas, this may be the best book you could read, especially to a child who doesn’t understand why God is allows suffering and hard times.

What do you do after Christmas?

Copyright 2014 by Bob Rogers

ChristmasTreeRecycle

What do you do after Christmas? What happens after you take down the tree, put up the lights, and put away all the wrapping? You do as the shepherds and Mary did: promulgate, meditate and celebrate!
1. PROMULGATE. In a previous century, they called missionary-sending organizations a Society for the Promulgation of the Gospel. In this century, the need is as great as ever to spread the good news. “After seeing them, they reported the message… about this child” (Luke 2:17). Ask somebody how their Christmas went, and use it as an opportunity to tell them how much it means to you to know Christ as your Savior.
2. MEDITATE. “But Mary was treasuring up all these things in her heart and meditating on them.” (Luke 2:18). Spend some time quietly reflecting on the miracle of the Virgin Birth, and the Incarnation, God coming in flesh.
3. CELEBRATE.  “The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God.” (Luke 2:19). You probably went to church before Christmas. Sadly, the Sunday after Christmas is often one of the lowest in attendance of the year at many churches. But the shepherds rejoiced and worshiped AFTER the birth of Christ. So should we.

Christmas Trivia Quiz

Copyright 2014

Below is a “True/ False” Christmas Trivia Quiz, developed by the chaplains at the hospital where I work. See how many you get right. Click on the “Comments” below to read the answers in the first comment.

1. John’s Gospel names Bethlehem as the birthplace of the Messiah.

2. The name, “Jesus,” was not prophesied in the Old Testament; rather, it was given to Mary by the angel for the Christ-child.

3. The Bible does not provide any clues as to when Jesus was born.

4. Jesus was born in the year 1 A.D.

5. Gabriel was the angel who informed young Mary that she would miraculously conceive a child through the power of the Holy Spirit.

6. According to the Luke’s Gospel, the angel Gabriel told Joseph to not be afraid to take Mary as his wife.

7. The Bible says that Mary rode to Bethlehem while pregnant with Jesus on a donkey.

8. Angels announced Jesus’ birth to shep-herds in the fields nearby.

9. The Magi, or Wise Men, brought gifts to the newborn King on the night of His birth.

10. According to Matthew’s Gospel, the Magi brought gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.

11. According to the Bible, Jesus was circumcised on the 8th day of his life.

12. Simeon was the name of the righteous man who blessed Jesus in the temple in Jerusalem.

13. Herod was the evil King who ordered all male children under the age of 2 in Nazareth to be slaughtered in an attempt to kill Jesus.

14. Joseph and Mary fled to Egypt in the middle of the night after being warned by an angel in a dream.

15. Early Christians did not celebrate the birthday of Christ.

Why do we celebrate Jesus’ birth on December 25?

Copyright 2014 by Bob Rogers

BethlehemStable  Since nobody knows the exact date of Jesus’ birth, why do we celebrate Christmas on December 25?

The Beginning of the Christmas Holiday

The answer to that question is submerged under a haze of mystery. An early father of the church, Cyprian, said in 243 that Christ was born on March 28, the spring equinox, for “on that day which the sun was made on the same day was Christ born.” However, Christ’s birthday was not celebrated until the fourth century, and when the tradition of Christmas began, the date of December 25 was preferred in the West, while January 6 was preferred in the East (a date that is still preferred by Eastern Orthodox Christians).
The earliest known reference to celebrating Jesus’ birth on December 25 was in the Philocalian Calendar, a list of martyrs of the Roman Church, written in 354 but reflecting practices in 336. In 376, the bishop of Rome first required churches to keep the nativity festival on December 25. In 386, John Chrysostom refers to the date of the December 25 festival by saying, “It is not yet the tenth year since this day has become clearly known to us.” Ironically, Christmas was celebrated in Bethlehem on January 6 until the sixth century (since Bethlehem was under the influence of the Eastern tradition). After the sixth century, Bethlehem celebrated Christmas on December 25, because Emperor Justin II (565-578) ordered the celebration of Christmas on December 25 throughout the Roman empire.

The Origin of the Date of Christmas

There are two major theories of the origin of these dates: one with pagan roots, and one with Christian roots.
The most commonly accepted theory is that the date was chosen, perhaps by Emperor Constantine, to divert the attention from pagan holidays. Emperor Aurelian had established a pegan winter solstice festival on December 25, 274, and he probably dedicated a temple to the sun god on that date. The birth of the Persian god Mithras, identified with the sun, was celebrated on December 25. Egyptians celebrated the birthday of the sun god Aion on January 6.  Many people contend that Christmas should not be celebrated because of this possible connection to these pagan origins. Ironically, some of these same people will themselves seek to replace the pagan celebration of Halloween with a Harvest Festival at their churches, in much the same way as they claim the early Christians celebrated Jesus’ birth to replace a pagan holiday.
Thomas J. Talley, in his book, The Origins of the Liturgical Year, argues that the dates of both December 25 and January 6 can be explained from Christian origins. In rabbinic thought, it was common to remember the conception and death day of patriarchs on the same day. By putting Jesus’ conception on the Jewish day of 14 Nisan (March 25 on the Western calendar and April 6 on the Eastern calendar), His birth nine months later would be either December 25 (according to the Western calendar) or January 6 (according to the Eastern calendar). Thus the birth of Christ could have been set “without reference to pagan public celebrations,” says Talley.
Since Luke 2:8 says the shepherds were outdoors with their flocks when the angel announced Christ’s birth to them, Cyprian’s date of March 28 is probably closer to the actual birthday of Jesus than the colder times of December 25 of January 6. Some would argue that since there is no historical evidence for Jesus’ birth on these dates, that we should not celebrate Christmas. However, there is another piece of the puzzle from history that would argue otherwise. In the fourth century, when the Christmas holiday became popular, Christians were in the midst of a raging controversy of what they believed about Jesus Christ. By celebrating Christmas, orthodox Christians were able to affirm the important doctrine of the Incarnation, that Jesus was God in the flesh. For example, Chrysostom, who himself stated that the festival of December 25 was a relatively new celebration in his time, went on to say this about its importance:
“This day He who is, is born; and He who is, becomes what He was not. For when He was God, He became man… being the Word, He became flesh…”

Favorite children’s Christmas books: “All Is Well” by Frank E. Peretti

AllIsWell Frank Peretti is the best-selling author of the Christian thriller This Present Darkness, but he is also the author of one of the most touching Christmas books for children that I have ever read.

All Is Well: A Story for Christmas is different from other children’s Christmas books for several reasons. It is on the reading level of an older child, perhaps about fifth grade. It is on the emotional level of a single mom who is struggling to make ends meet at Christmas. The story takes place in July, not during the Christmas season. Yet is most certainly a Christmas story, especially for those who going through tough times during the holidays.

If you are looking for a cute Christmas book for your child, this is not your book. But if you need encouragement to make it through Christmas, this may be the best book you could read, especially to a child who doesn’t understand why God is allows suffering and hard times.

Favorite children’s Christmas books: “How the Grinch Stole Christmas”

HowTheGrinchStoleChristmas  In my list of favorite children’s Christmas books, I have to include the classic book that I loved when I was a child, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, by Dr. Seuss. This beloved book has been made into a popular cartoon TV show, that includes the song, “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch.” In recent years, a live-action movie was also made, but I still prefer the cartoon that follows the book word-for-word. It is hard to improve on the whimsical rhyme of Dr. Seuss.

Most readers already know the story, of how the Grinch couldn’t stand the noise that all the “Who’s down in Whoville” made on Christmas morning. So he decided to steal all of their toys on Christmas Eve. What he never anticipated was that they would still sing on Christmas morning without any presents at all. I love the climactic lines:

“It came without ribbons! It came without tags!/ It came without packages, boxes or bags!”/ And he puzzled three hours, till his puzzler was sore. / Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before!/ “Maybe Christmas,” he thought, “doesn’t come from a store./ Maybe Christmas… perhaps… means a little bit more!”

The changed heart of the Grinch has put the word “Grinch” next to “Scrooge” in the Christmas vocabulary of the English language. Every child deserves a chance to hear a parent or grandparent read it to him or her directly from the book, and follow it with a heartfelt discussion about the real meaning of Christmas.

Favorite children’s Christmas books: “Cajun Night Before Christmas”

CajunNightBeforeChristmas   Continuing my series of reviews of favorite children’s Christmas books, today’s selection is Cajun Night Before Christmas, by “Trosclair,” edited by Howard Jacobs.

Imagine the famous poem, “Twas the Night Before Christmas,” told in the dialect of south Louisiana, with St. Nicholas gliding across the bayou, with “eight alligator a pullin’ a skiff.” Of course, the alligators have French names:

“Ha, Gaston! Ha, Tiboy! Ha, Pierre an’ Alcee’! Gee, Ninette! Gee, Suzette! Celeste an Renee’!”

I have read this story aloud to my family and to children in public schools over the years, and it always produces loud laughter, even among those who aren’t familiar with the Cajun culture. There have been many imitations of this book, such as the Cowboy Night Before Christmas and the Redneck Night Before Christmas. But none have surpassed the originality and pure fun of Cajun Night Before Christmas.

The book is available in many book stores and at amazon.com here.

Favorite children’s Christmas books: “Alabaster’s Song” by Max Lucado

AlabastersSong    Parents often look for great books to share with their children at Christmas. For the next few days, I will share what I consider to be four of the best children’s Christmas books.

One of my favorites is Alabaster’s Song: Christmas through the Eyes of an Angel by Max Lucado. It tells the story of a boy who believes he hears the angel on the Christmas tree singing. Then miraculously, the gap-toothed angel appears by the boy’s bedside, a boy like him, and tells him what it was like to sing to baby Jesus. Children of all ages will enjoy this book, but parents, watch out, because you may get a lump in your own throat at the way the story ends.

The book can be found in many Christian book stores, and on Amazon.com here.

Guest blog post: Expressing Sympathy During the Holidays

Suzie_Kolber_Obits (Below is a guest blog by Suzie Kolber on the subject of how to express sympathy during the holidays, which can be a difficult time for those who have recently lost a loved one. Suzie is a writer at ObituariesHelp.org. The site is a complete guide for someone seeking help for writing words of condolences, sympathy messages, condolence letters and funeral planning resources.)

The holidays can be such a fun, exciting time for most people. However, for those who have recently lost a family member or close friend, it can be a difficult, painful time. Everywhere they look, something reminds them of prior holidays spent with that person.

Depression is a common problem during this season for people who have lost their loved ones. If the anniversary of the death or the person’s birthday falls during this time, it can make the brightest days seem dark.

Avoidance

Many bereaved people tend to avoid others during this time. They don’t socialize or go out because they see the festivities as another painful reminder of their loss. On the other hand, friends and family members may tend to avoid the bereaved person because they don’t know what to say. It feels awkward to be around them and try to hide their natural excitement for the season.

While it is natural to want to avoid the hustle and bustle of the holiday season, the isolation only contributes more to the feelings of depression and loneliness. Family members and friends need to be aware of this and continue interacting with their grieving loved one.

What To Say

It’s normal to want to avoid someone when you don’t know what to say to them. However, your support and sympathy is needed, especially when someone suffers such a loss around the holiday season. The following tips will help you offer the comfort that is needed.

  • Offer assistance for the person who still has to organize the holiday celebration even though they are grieving. For instance, someone may have lost a spouse but has children who want to celebrate. They may need help with cleaning, cooking or even shopping.
  • Invite someone to your home for the holidays, especially if you are having a low-key celebration. This allows them to get out without being overwhelmed by the activities.
  • Invite the loved one to volunteer with you. Doing something like creating gift baskets for soldiers can help a person feel useful and remind them that they are not alone. Others may be missing loved ones for different reasons.
  • Be willing to talk about the deceased. Your job may be as simple as listening as the person relives fond memories. While you may think it would bring sadness to talk about the person who is gone, it can actually be helpful. The person is thinking about them anyway; talking provides healing.

If the person lives far away and you can’t visit during the holiday season, it is appropriate to send a flower or gift basket. You don’t need to wish them “Happy Holidays” or “Merry Christmas.” Instead, include a card that says that you are thinking of them. Just this reminder and a few lovely flowers can brighten their day.

Anytime is a bad time to lose a loved one. Suffering the loss during the holidays makes the pain even more severe for many. Reach out to those people and they will appreciate the comfort that you provide.

Finding Christ in our Christmas gifts

ChristmasGiftBoxCopyright 2013 by Bob Rogers

At Christmas, people all over the world exchange gifts. The Gallup Poll estimates that each American will personally spend about $740 this Christmas on Christmas gifts. (Source: http://www.gallup.com/poll/166226/consumers-holiday-spending-intentions-remain-modest.aspx). American Research Group estimates that each American spends $801. (Source: http://americanresearchgroup.com/holiday/)

   Research says that on Black Friday 2013, Americans spent $12.3 billion in stores and nearly $2 billion online. Source: http://www.slideshare.net/WishpondTechnologiesLtd/black-friday-2013-results-1). Hundreds of billions of dollars more will be spent during the entire Christmas season.

   Children look for Santa Claus to bring them gifts. According to a survey on Today.com, 67% of American families will give each of their children at four gifts or more for Christmas. So most American children get more gifts for Christmas than Jesus got on His own birthday! Many children are so excited about getting gifts that they forget that the holiday is to celebrate Jesus’ birth.

   In America, exchanging gifts at Christmas has become gluttonous, excessive and wasteful. How did get so far away from the original idea? Let’s work our way backwards to where this all came from, and see if we can’t also get back to where we should be.

I.                  The tradition of gifts from Santa Claus

    Santa Claus as we know him today originated here in America, particularly in New York.

   The tradition of Santa Claus comes primarily from the poem by Clement C. Moore, a seminary professor in New York City. The poem was originally called, “A Visit from St. Nicholas,” but most of us know it by the first line, “’Twas the Night Before Christmas.” It was published in 1823 and had a great impact on the tradition of Santa Claus. It is from this poem that people get the idea of a jolly elf with a big belly coming on Christmas Eve with reindeer and bringing gifts for children. Yet even this poem never calls him Santa Claus, but instead it calls him St. Nicholas. New York, where Clement C. Moore lived, was first settled by the Dutch, who used the term Sinterklaas, to refer to St. Nicholas, and Sinterklaas came to be pronounced Santa Claus in English. But who was St. Nicholas?

   Nicholas was a real person who was a Christian bishop in the 4th century. He was born in A.D. 270, and died on December 6, A.D. 343. Nicholas grew up in a wealthy home in Myra, part of modern-day Turkey. He became bishop of Myra and was known as a conservative, Bible-believing bishop, with a reputation for secret gift-giving and caring for children. One legend said that he often put coins in the shoes of people in need. The most famous legend about Nicholas was that a poor man had three daughters but could not afford a proper dowry for their wedding. This meant that they would remain unmarried and probably, in absence of any other possible employment, would have to become prostitutes. Hearing of the girls’ plight, Nicholas decided to help them, but being too modest to help the family in public (or to save them the humiliation of accepting charity), he went to the house under the cover of night and threw three purses (one for each daughter) filled with gold coins through the window opening into the house.

   One version of the legend has him throwing one purse for three consecutive nights. Another has him throwing the purses over a period of three years, each time the night before one of the daughters comes of age. Invariably, the third time the father lies in wait, trying to discover the identity of their benefactor. In one version the father confronts the saint, only to have Saint Nicholas say it is not him he should thank, but God alone. In another version, Nicholas learns of the poor man’s plan and drops the third bag down the chimney instead; a variant holds that the daughter had washed her stockings that evening and hung them over the embers to dry, and that the bag of gold fell into the stocking. (Sources: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christmas#Gift_giving,   http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saint_Nicholas

   You can quickly see how these legends developed over the centuries into the legend of a character who brings gifts in secret, sometimes in stockings or down a chimney. He is known by many names in many countries, including Father Christmas, Père Noël in French, and Sinterklaas in Dutch.

   Because the real St. Nicholas died on December 6, in many nations he is remembered on that day with the giving of gifts. But during the Protestant Reformation, many Protestants changed the gift-giver to the Christ child, which is Christkindl in German, and changed the date from December 6 to Christmas Eve. The German Christkindl got corrupted to Kris Kringle in English, and the Dutch Sinterklaas got corrupted to Santa Claus in English.

   But we need to go further back than St. Nicolas to understand gift-giving at Christmas. Nicholas was a Christian bishop, and we need to go back to the Bible to see where he learned to give gifts.

II.               The tradition of gifts from the wise men

   Many traditions have grown up about the wise men who came to bring gifts to Jesus. The popular Christmas carol, “We Three Kings of Orient Are,” has led people to believe that there were three wise men, and that they were kings. Tradition has even given the three kings names: Melchior from Persia, Caspar from India, Balthasar from Arabia. (Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Biblical_Magi)

   How much of this is really in the Bible?

   Matthew’s Gospel tells us that after Jesus was born in Bethlehem, that wise men came from the East, following a star to find the newborn Messiah, the king of the Jews. It does not say there were three of them, it only says they brought three gifts. There could have been twelve of them, for all we know.

   The word translated “wise men” in Matthew 2:1 is magi. It is a Persian word that described priests of the Zoroastrian religion who foretold the future by studying the stars. The word magi was first used by Darius the Mede, who is considered from the people group known today as the Kurds. Kurds today still celebrate certain Zoroastrian practices, especially the Zoroastrian New Year that they call Newroz. Thus instead of kings from India, Persia and Arabia, the wise men were very likely Zoroastrian priests and astrologers from the Medes, or modern-day Kurds.

    Now let’s look at Matthew 2:11. It says, “Entering the house, they saw the child with Mary His mother, and falling on their knees, they worshiped Him. Then they opened their treasures and presented Him with gifts: gold, frankincense, and myrrh.”

    This happened many months after Jesus’ birth, so they now live in a house, not in a stable, and Jesus is a child, not a baby. Joseph is not mentioned, probably because he was away at work. But what is most important for us is to notice what the wise men did. If we will pay close attention to what they did, we will get our Christmas gift-giving back in balance. They did two things. First, they fell on their knees and worshiped Jesus. Second, they presented Him with treasures.

   Notice that their first gift was their worship. There is no greater gift that you or I can give Jesus than to give him our worship. The poet Christina Rosetti wrote,

“What can I give Him? Poor as I am? If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb. If I were a Wise Man, I would do my part. Yet what can I give Him, Give Him my heart.”

   This was the first gift of the wise men, the gift of their hearts. The apostle Paul writes about the Christians in Macedonia in 2 Corinthians 8, who gave offerings even though they were poor. Yet Paul says in 2 Corinthians 8:5 that they first gave themselves to the Lord, even before they gave their financial gifts.

   Notice that their second gift was their treasures: gold, frankincense, and myrrh. There are many traditional symbols associated with these three gifts. Gold was considered one of the most precious medals in ancient times just as it is today. Job 28:15 talks about wisdom being so valuable that not even gold could be exchanged for it. King Solomon’s court was full of gold. Gold is often associated with Jesus as king. Frankincense is an incense that was used to burn before the Lord in the altar, according to Exodus 30:35-36. Thus frankincense is associated with prayer and worship. Myrrh is a valuable perfume. Myrrh was used as a beauty treatment, but John 19:39 says that the women used myrrh to anoint Jesus’ body for burial, and thus myrrh was associated with Jesus coming to die on the cross for our sins.

III.           How to find Christ in our giving

   So how do we find Christ in our Christmas gifts? Our journey backwards to the root of our traditions should give us some answers.

   First, we should give ourselves to Christ in worship.

   The wise men first gave of themselves in worship, and then gave their treasures to Christ. This should remind us that Christmas is about giving, not getting gifts. It is not about us receiving gifts, but about us giving to celebrate Christ. The most important gift of all is our worship to Christ. A Christian who is too busy exchanging presents at Christmas to give Jesus his presence in worship is guilty of idolatry! The wise men came to Jesus, and fell on their knees before Him. So should we.

   Second, we should give Christ our treasures.

   This should also remind us that our gifts should have a purpose. While there are many legends about the purpose of the gold, frankincense and myrrh, the reality is that soon after this, Joseph and Mary had to flee from the murderous intentions of King Herod, and the rich gifts from the wise men must have been very practical and useful to them in financing their trip. Genesis 37:25 mentions traders on a caravan of camels who were carrying perfumes and incense. The fact is that all three gifts were easy to transport, valuable and easy to sell on the open market. The gifts were not wasteful; they had a useful purpose.

   If we truly treasure Jesus Christ, if we are truly grateful for Him coming to safe us, then we will want to give gifts to glorify Jesus Christ. This can include gifts to people in need, and gifts to share the gospel of Jesus Christ.

   What would happen if just half of our church members would just give 10% of their spending to missions to share the gospel?

   Last year, Southern Baptists gave $149.3 million to the international missions offering.

If just half of Southern Baptists gave just 10% of the average Christmas spending to missions, we would give $592 million dollars to missions. Instead, Southern Baptists only gave 25% of that amount.

   Third, we should not teach our children to be greedy and materialistic. Many children think that Santa Claus has an unlimited supply to give them anything they want, which encourages greed and selfishness. Parents need to resist the culture’s materialism in the way they give gifts to their kids.   As a mentioned in the beginning of this sermon, most American children get four or more gifts at Christmas, yet Jesus only received three. Many parents are saying that it’s time that they take a lesson from the wise men, and in honor of Jesus, they give their children three gifts. By giving your children three gifts, you remind them of Jesus’ three gifts. Some families do it this way: something they want, something they need and something to read. Others choose something they want, something they need, and something to wear. Other families give a “gold” present, and “frankincense” present, and a “myrrh” present. The “gold” present is something a child would want and treasure. The “frankincense” present is used in worship and spiritual life, such as a Bible, and the “myrrh” present is something for the body, like clothing or shoes. Many families allow a fourth present, as the child gets to pick a gift to give away to somebody else in need.(Source:http://t.co/ckwo8WQcvZ)

   Fourth, we should exchange gifts to express our love.

   As long as we honor Christ at Christmas, there is nothing wrong with exchanging gifts with our family and friends, as well. After all, giving and receiving gifts are an expression of love. Gary Chapman, in his bestseller, The Five Love Languages, says that people feel love in five major ways: words of affirmation, quality time, receiving gifts, acts of service, and physical touch. Although people have a primary love language, most people feel loved when they receive all five of those. Chapman points out that a gift does not have to be expensive to express love. It’s more important that the gift is thoughtful.

   My sister, Nancy, is the best gift-giver I know. I have always noticed how thoughtful she is in selecting gifts for others. So I called her up and asked for her advice, and here is what she told me:

   Nancy said, “I think about what that person would enjoy. It depends on who the person is.  I ask, would it appeal to that person, not to me. So I ask myself, how would they react when they open this gift? Like a person who loves cats, I might think they would like a cat figurine, but then I think about how this person does not collect items and so even though they like cats, they don’t collect figurines. So I don’t just think about it just a minute. I give it some time and thought.

   “When it comes to gift giving, the magic thing is not the dollar value. It’s showing the other person that you care about them and value them by thinking about what they would like. It’s about the receiver, the care and thought. One year when I had no money, I baked cookies and put them in plastic bags and put handwritten notes with the cookies, and it went over fine, because I tried to personalize it. A lot of times, a card you make yourself or a blank card that you write a note in, means even more.”

   “What you will discover when you start putting time and thought into your gift-giving, is that gift-giving will become more enjoyable for you. You will look forward to seeing how the other person reacts and how they know that you showed that you care by selecting something just for them. After all, giving gifts is an expression of our love, and if we love someone, we will put some thought into what we give them.”

 A young man wanted to get a special Christmas gift for his father, who lived far away. He looked for something unique that would show how much he valued his father. So he got an exotic parakeet. It could speak five different languages and it could sing “The Yellow Rose of Texas” standing on one leg.

   He spent $10,000 on the bird and had it shipped this unusual bird to his father. On Christmas Day, he called his father. He couldn’t wait to hear what his Dad thought of his gift. He said, “Dad, did you get my gift?” His father said, “I certainly did, son.” The man said, “Well, Dad how did you like it?” His dad replied, “Oh, it was delicious!”

   He said, “But Dad, that was a special bird that could speak five different languages and even sing while standing on one leg! I can’t believe you ate him!” His father replied, “If he could speak five different languages, I can’t believe he didn’t say something before I ate him!” (Adapted from Tony Evans’ Book of Illustrations, p. 117-118.)

   God sent the greatest gift at all at Christmas when He sent His Son to save us. But many of us have missed the point, like the man who ate the parakeet. But before we criticize those who miss the point, let’s ask ourselves a question: “Why don’t we say something?” After all, how are they going to know about the real gift of Christmas if we don’t tell them?

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