When I was a kid, during the season of Advent we would always have a little manger scene out with the figures of Mary, Joseph, the baby Jesus, a shepherd and three wise men. It was a child-friendly set, with almost like a Lincoln Log stable and Fisher Price style figures (I know I am dating myself with these references).
I just recently learned that this manger scene was a wedding gift for my parents, who were married 50 years ago on December 27, 1967. What a wonderful wedding gift to give: the story of the birth of Jesus in tangible form to share with future children as part of a family tradition.
My parents still have those figures and they still put them out. And I am again reminded when I see them of the marvelous story of how Christ came to earth to save us.
A few Christmases ago, there was a special on TV celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Charlie Brown Christmas Special. As part of the program, Kristin Chenoweth sang the song “Happiness” from the You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown musical.
That particular clip is no longer available on YouTube, but here is another older, shortened (much slower, sorry) version for you to listen to:
My favorite line from that song is “Happiness is catching a firefly, setting him free.” I can feel the joy in that, and it makes be nostalgic for childhood. The song eventually concludes, “Happiness is anyone and anything that’s loved by you.” Though I love this song, that’s a pretty broad brush!
That got me to thinking about what happiness is to the Christian. St. Paul helps us in this regard when he says, “I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need” (Philippians 4:11-12).
For us as Christians, the circumstances of our lives are not what bring us ultimate happiness. For the Christian, happiness is knowing we have a gracious and forgiving God who will never abandon us.
Therefore, happiness for the Christian is not centered on what we love, but on the fact that we are loved by Christ. And that love is revealed to us in flesh and blood through the Babe of Bethlehem who came to live with us and love us in person all the way to the cross, that we might be saved and live with him forever. That is the true and lasting happiness that brings joy to the world this Christmas and always.
If I had to write a new verse to the “Happiness” song, then I would add: “Happiness is Jesus who loves me, knowing he cares so. He died for me!” May that be your song this season, too, and may it bring happiness to your heart.
As Christmas approaches, it is good for us to remember that the name Bethlehem means “house of bread.” Why is that significant? Because bread plays a important role in the life of Christ and in the Bible in general.
An article in the September 2017 Living Lutheran magazine points out that “bread is perhaps the easiest metaphor in the Bible. Almost all possible ingredients have a scriptural spotlight” (Kari Alice Olsen, Living Lutheran, September 2017, p. 20). Let’s take a look:
Water: Water symbolizes baptism that now saves you. —1 Peter 3:21
Yeast: What shall I compare the kingdom of God to?It is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into about sixty pounds of flour until it worked all through the dough. —Luke 13:20-21
One of my favorite songs on Christian radio these days is “Soul on Fire” by Third Day. Take a listen:
What I like most about this song is the strong beat and the positive uplifting tone. There is excitement and movement in being a Christian in the world that is sometimes lost in our often ordered and mannered worship.
The reality is that there is the fire of the Holy Spirit burning within our souls. And that Spirit’s fire needs to get out and spread to the people and circumstances around us.
And what helps us to release that Spirit’s fire from within us? As the song says, it is our desire through the Holy Spirit to be “running for (God’s) heart” and “longing for (God’s) ways.”
I am singing in a cantata at my church again this year, and as part of the discipline for preparing for that event, our director provides CDs of people singing the music for us to listen to in the car. I find the experience interesting because I have the songs on almost a continuous loop whenever I am driving anywhere. And sometimes the juxtaposition is startling.
As I turn off the car in the grocery store parking lot, the last words I hear are, “Love came down at Christmas.” Somehow buying food becomes less of a chore when you know that.
What will you say in your Christmas letter this year?
I confess that I am one of those people who loves composing and receiving Christmas letters. Maybe it is the writer in me, but there is something therapeutic to me about summing up the events of the past year in a single page and reminding me and all the friends and loved ones on my Christmas list that the Savior who was born for us in Bethlehem over 2000 years ago is still at work in our daily lives.
I love to hear the stories of how God worked in the lives of others during the past year and there is a sense in the very writing of Christmas letters that we are all in this together, that we are corresponding out of mutual love and respect and a bond with one another.