Tag Archives: Christmas

Keeping the Church Year Alive

slinkyA session I attended at Best Practices in Ministry in Phoenix this past February was “Can Holidays Be Holy Days?” presented by Rachel Hinz. Hinz gave excellent suggestions for doing small things within the family to remind children and adults alike what season of the Church Year we are in. Some of her suggestions included:

• making your own Advent wreath out of a piece of wood with holes drilled for the candles

• moving the manger scene figures of shepherds and wise men and Mary and Joseph around the house for children to find and move closer to the manger each day of Advent

• putting the figure of Baby Jesus in the bread box all year round to remind the family that Jesus is the bread of life

• celebrating St. Nicholas Day with chocolate and coins in shoes

• changing bed time stories to Advent Reading from the Bible

• giving a gift to each other on each of the 12 days of Christmas

• make a Three Kings Cake during the Epiphany season

• make a small standing cross and then adding ribbons to match the colors of the Church Year

Hinz remarked that though the seasons of the Church Year seem to make up one big circle that we retread over and over again, it is more like a slinky, that childhood toy of old, with loops that go around and around again, but which has a beginning and an end. As each Church Year goes from Advent, to Christmas, to Epiphany, to Lent, then to the Pentecost Season, depicting the life of Christ each year, we are ever moving forward to the end of days when Christ will return. He is our Alpha and Omega, our beginning and our end. That is why we have the Church Year, to remind us that his life has meaning in our lives year in and year out, which we need never forget. There is a rhythm to our lives that the Church Year helps us to see, but there is a progression, too, as we draw closer and closer to the time when we will be with Christ forever, celebrating his life with all the saints in light.

Feeling Blue?

blue candleOver the Christmas season a few months back a story ran on the national news about “blue” Christmas services that some parishes were offering for those who were feeling lonely or grieving the loss of loved ones during the holiday season. The service included lighting candles, listening to comforting words of Scripture and soothing music, surrounded by the presence of loving and caring people.

I found the story heart-warming and touching and something that we can consider doing all year-round in our churches at various times.

The church is designed to be a place of comfort, care and healing for those who are feeling blue. The funny thing about the color blue is that in modern-day vernacular in this turn of phrase blue means sad. But in the church blue is a color of hope, renewal and a future in the heavens above.

Therefore, let us do all we can to help those on their journey from sad to glad through the hope they are given in the love and salvation of Christ our Lord.

Christmas Ornaments

ornamentsMerry Christmas to one and all! It is my joy to share the joy of this day with you, and I wish you special moments with friends and family and a deepening connection with the Christ Child today.

One thing I have liked to do is to buy Christmas ornaments from places that I visit each year. This past year, on my vacation to Wisconsin I found a metal ornament in the shape of the state with a cutout of a hiker in the middle. It perfectly encapsulated my experience of hiking various parts of the state and rejoicing in God’s creation. I enjoyed putting that ornament on my Christmas tree this year.

wisconsinWhat experience do you want to remember fondly from the past year as you celebrate Christmas today? The fact is the Christ comes to us in various ways not just at Christmas, but throughout the year. What “Christmas ornament” moment do you want to treasure today and give thanks to God for?

Today is a day to remember how the birth of Jesus Christ to save us from sin and death forever decorates our lives year after year. The beauty of his birth is something that is precious to us and something that needs to be celebrated often. Let this Christmas be the beginning of many more Christmas moments throughout the coming year, moments when we see the love of our Savior ornamenting our world.

 

Manger Scene

manger sceneWhen 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.

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12 Days

12 daysWe all know the song about the 12 days of Christmas that starts, “On the first day of Christmas, my true love sent to me … ” But do we really celebrate the full 12 days of Christmas in our homes? Our society tends to want to end the celebration on the 25th. But our church year calendar has the 12 days of the Christmas SEASON built into it.

The 12 days on the church year calendar span the time from Christmas Day to Epiphany (Jan. 6), when we celebrate the arrival of the wise men to worship Jesus.

So we as followers of Christ and followers of the church year calendar should do all we can to enjoy the entire 12 days of Christmas and not pack everything up on the night of the 25th.

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Cantata

CDI 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.

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Christmas letters

Christmas letter

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.

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Filling the Pews

When I was home over Christmas last December, there was a beautiful moment when all the members of my entire immediate family fit into one long pew at my parents’ church. My mom and dad were celebrating their anniversary that particular day (Dec. 27) and it was especially moving for them to see all their children with their spouses and grandchildren being together in one row in the house of God. It was a wonderful picture to me of what passing on the faith means.

pewsThe love and the faith that began with my mother and father were carried on in my life and in the lives of my brother and sister and their families. The baton has been passed, and we now are called to carry on the faith to our future generations. But as we know, the pews are not as full as they once were in “our day.” Attendance at traditional worship is not as much a staple of our weekend schedule as it once was in our Christian families.

That is not to say that people are not religious. It is just that they are expressing faith in different ways: at home, through online streaming worship services, through small groups at coffee shops.

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The Candle Effect

Candles

Have you experienced the candle effect on Christmas Eve?

When I was worshiping at my parents’ home church in Iowa City, IA, on Christmas Eve, one of the most touching moments during the service was when we all lit candles while singing “Silent Night,” which is a beloved tradition in many churches around the world. And I got to thinking about what makes it so special to people and to me.

What I attribute it to is what I call “the candle effect.“

The light of candles in a darkened space instantly makes us feel warm and happy inside and has a holiness about it that cannot be replicated in other ways by such things as battery-powered lights, etc. The flickering and waving of the candle light has the ability to make us sense the power of God Continue reading →