Light

I’ve come to the conclusion that Christmas is better at night.

Driving around running errands the past few days, I’ve been completely under-impressed by trailing extension cords leading to bushes and trees, deflated “inflatables” of Santas and snowmen and Disney characters lying in heaps on front lawns, wire framed stars and grazing deer looking like just that – wire frames. Nothing special. Nothing to inspire holiday cheer.

But when night comes, those same “blah”, less than impressive characters and shapes will come to life. Against the backdrop of darkened skies, those front lawns and porches will light up, making children smile and those driving by take a second look.

Christmas is definitely better at night.

But wasn’t that the way it happened to begin with? Didn’t Jesus come when the world was dark and in desperate need of light? Didn’t the angels break forth at night, lighting up the sky with God’s glory? Didn’t the star need the blackness of night to be seen by the wise men?

Darkness sets the stage for the light.

Our world is pretty dark now, too. The news on the front pages and the leading stories on the TV make me cringe and make me sad. I shake my head, wondering if things can get any worse. And yet, this is the darkness that Jesus came for. This is the reason for Christmas – and the Cross.

Maybe the daytime disarray of unlit Christmas decorations should serve as a reminder to us of a world in need of light – the very first Christmas Light, the same Light that still shines today.
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The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light;Those who dwelled in the land of the shadow of death, upon them a light has shined.  Isaiah 9:2

Arise, shine; For your light has come! And the glory of the LORD is risen upon you. Isaiah 60:1

When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceedingly great joy.  Matthew 2:10

Then Jesus spoke to them again, saying, “I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life.” John 8:12

Tribute

My parents were married 59 years ago today. December 16th, 1955. And even though my Dad isn’t here to celebrate it with my Mom and the rest of us, it’s still a cause for celebration.

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His earthly absence doesn’t change the fact that their marriage was a great one, built on faith and trust and God. It served as a lifelong example to the four kids who were born into it. Four kids who came to know the Lord early. Four kids who as adults all walk with the Lord today. It’s still serving as an example to the ones who are now married with kids of their own, and to the ones still waiting.

The promises made 59 years ago were kept. And the impact of those promises reach farther than those two young Bible college students could possibly have imagined. Mom kept the household and the kids in order so that Dad could travel and preach and speak and tell others about Christ. Together they built a ministry, a family, and a home.

I never had to worry that my parents wouldn’t stay together, and I know that is something rare these days. I never had to worry about being loved and cared for, even when (uh-hem) “adjustments” to my behavior were necessary.

For their 40th Anniversary we put together a video of pictures telling the story of their lives as a couple. As the photos of the wedding and birthdays and babies and homes and vacations faded in and out on the screen, Steve Green’s song “Household of Faith” played in the background. I looked over those lyrics again a few minutes ago and I realized they capture my parent’s marriage perfectly.

We’ll build a household of faith
That together we can make
And when the strong winds blow it won’t fall down
As one in Him we’ll grow and the whole world will know
We are a household of faith

Thank you, Mom, that on a cold December night 59 years ago, amid Christmas decorations and red velvet dresses and friends and family, you and Dad stood before God and began to build a household of faith that still stands to this day. It looks a little different, but it’s still standing.

And we are blessed because of it.

Choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve… But as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD. Joshua 24:15

Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever! Psalm 118:1

Train up a child in the way he should go,
And when he is old he will not depart from it. Proverbs 22:6

You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up. Deuteronomy 6:7

Timing

My nativity set has a new home this year. And I think it might have turned out to be the best place yet – for a reason I might never have thought of.

I usually put my nativity set on a shelf of a hutch in my dining room. It wouldn’t have worked there this year since I put up a faux brick wall and the hutch doesn’t have a back to it and I don’t think Mary and Joseph stayed in a stable with faux brick walls. It would have looked cool, but there would have been something a little questionable about the backdrop.

And then I’ve been having trouble getting into the Christmas spirit this year. Maybe it’s because retailers were jamming it down our throats for weeks before Thanksgiving. Or maybe it’s the Florida thing. Hard to get in the spirit of the season when it’s unseasonably warm outside.

But yesterday, I put on the Christmas music and I unpacked those boxes with the nativity set in a defiant act of “I WILL have Christmas joy!”. I love my nativity figurines – simple, plain carvings. Uncluttered. Deserving of a simple, uncluttered place to display them. Then I noticed the upright chest of drawers I have by my front door. Perfect. I moved a candle and a framed picture and there it was. The perfect place to let Mary and Joseph and the baby and the stable animals remind me of what Christmas is really all about.

And then it became much more than that.

Two feet above the chest is a clock. And the minute I set up those figurines, it hit me. That little scene in the stable happened at – just the right time. Looking at the manger scene with a big clock hanging over it where a star should be almost made my chin drop. It was like God was reminding me about a part of the Christmas story I know about, but hadn’t really pondered in a long while.

That moment – the couple and the shepherds and the stars and no room at the inn and the politics and the birth of a baby – all happened at just the right time. God’s time. Not earlier, not later. Just a stroke of some heavenly clock and it all unfolded.

I’m going to be sad when I have to pack away that nativity set after the holidays. But for now, and for every day until then, I’m going to let the manger scene and the simple carved pieces and the clock hanging overhead remind me that God always has a plan, and His timing is always just right.
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My times are in Your hand; Psalm 31:15

To everything there is a season,
A time for every purpose under heaven: Ecclesiastes 3:1

And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. Luke 2:6

Impatient

Celebrating Advent means being able to wait. Waiting is an art that our impatient age has forgotten. It wants to break open the ripe fruit when it has hardly finished planting the shoot. But all too often the greedy eyes are only deceived; the fruit that seemed so precious is still green on the inside, and disrespectful hands ungratefully toss aside what has so disappointed them. Whoever does not know the austere blessedness of waiting – that is, of hopefully doing without – will never experience the full blessing of fulfillment.

from “God Is In The Manger – Reflections on Advent and Christmas”, by Dietrich Bonhoeffer

That you do not become sluggish, but imitate those who through faith and patience inherit the promises. Hebrews 6:12

Here is the patience of the saints; here are those who keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus. Revelation 14:12

But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing. James 1:4