What Would Christmas Be without Love?

“Love never ends.”

1 Corinthians 13:8a

Does the stress of trying to plan perfect holidays transform you into the Grinch? 

If so, then you’ll probably benefit from Sharon Jayne’s creative reminder about the most important thing we can do this Christmas…

If I decorate my house perfectly with lovely plaid bows, strands of twinkling lights, and shiny glass balls, but do not show love to my family—I’m just another decorator.

If I slave away in the kitchen, baking dozens of Christmas cookies, preparing gourmet meals, and arranging a beautifully adorned table at mealtime, but do not show love to my family—I’m just another cook. 

If I work at the soup kitchen, carol in the nursing home, and give all that I have to charity, but do not show love to my family—it profits me nothing.

If I trim the spruce with shimmering angels and crocheted snowflakes, attend a myriad of holiday parties, and sing in the choir’s cantata but do not focus on Christ, I have missed the point.

Love stops the cooking to hug the child.

Love sets aside the decorating to kiss the husband.

Love is kind, though harried and tired.

Love doesn’t envy another home that has coordinated Christmas china and table linens.

Love doesn’t yell at the kids to get out of your way.

Love doesn’t give only to those who are able to give in return, but rejoices in giving to those who can’t.

Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, and endures all things.

Love never fails.  Video games will break; pearl necklaces will be lost; golf clubs will rust.  But giving the gift of love will endure.

1 Corinthians 13 Christmas Style

With all that’s on our to-do lists this Christmas, let’s not forget—we always have time enough to love.

Image: Martine Lemmens

Celebrating Christmas—Can It Possibly Be Wrong?

“My soul glorifies the Lord 
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior”

Luke 1:46-47

Should Christians celebrate Christmas?

To most of us, the very question sounds ridiculous. “What could possibly be wrong with celebrating the birth of our Savior?” we wonder.

Yet there are some who see Christmas as a pagan holiday which originally had nothing to do with Christ’s birth and should, therefore, be avoided by His followers.

If you’ve ever heard such arguments and felt confused over them, the following thoughts from John MacArthur and Grace to You should provide you with a little clarity about why the celebration of Christmas is a worthy endeavor…

Scripture doesn’t specifically command believers to celebrate Christmas—there are no prescribed “Holy Days” the church must observe. In fact, Christmas was not observed as a holiday until well after the biblical era. It wasn’t until the mid-fifth century that Christmas received any official recognition.

We believe celebrating Christmas is not a question of right or wrong since Romans 14:5-6 provides us with the liberty to decide whether or not to observe special days:

One person esteems one day above another; another esteems every day alike. Let each be fully convinced in his own mind. He who observes the day, observes it to the Lord; and he who does not observe the day, to the Lord he does not observe it. He who eats, eats to the Lord, for he gives God thanks; and he who does not eat, to the Lord he does not eat, and gives God thanks (Rom. 14: 5-6).

According to these verses, a Christian can rightfully set aside any day—including Christmas—as a day for the Lord. We believe Christmas affords believers with a great opportunity to exalt Jesus Christ.

First, the Christmas season reminds us of the great truths of the Incarnation. Remembering important truths about Christ and the gospel is a prevalent New Testament theme (1 Corinthians 11:252 Peter 1:12-152 Thessalonians 2:5). Truth needs repetition because we so easily forget it. So we should celebrate Christmas to remember the birth of Christ and to marvel over the mystery of the Incarnation.

Christmas can also be a time for reverent worship. The shepherds glorified and praised God for the birth of Jesus the Messiah. They rejoiced when the angels proclaimed that in Bethlehem was born a Savior, Christ the Lord (Luke 2:11). The babe laid in the manger that day is our Savior, the “Lord of lords and King of kings” (Matthew 1:21Revelation 17:14).

Finally, people tend to be more open to the gospel during the Christmas holidays. We should take advantage of that openness to witness to them of the saving grace of God through Jesus Christ. Christmas is chiefly about the promised Messiah who came to save His people from their sins (Matthew 1:21). The holiday provides us with a wonderful opportunity to share this truth.

Although our society has muddied the message of Christmas through consumerism, myths and empty traditions, we should not let these distract us from appreciating the real meaning of Christmas. Let us take advantage of this opportunity to remember Him, worship Him and faithfully witness of Him.

["Should Christians Celebrate Christmas?" Hear John MacArthur explain more in response to the question in this audio clip.]

And now to jump-start your worship this season, Dr. MacArthur teaches from the Scriptures on the true spirit of Christmas…

Image: Billy Alexander

Decorating for the Party of the Year

During a recent M.O.M.S. group meeting at my church, a good friend of mine inspired me with her presentation on how to prepare our hearts and homes for Christmas. Cindy is a queen of hospitality and the only person I’ve ever known who is so organized that she has a “Plan A” Christmas (for holidays spent at home) and a “Plan B” Christmas (for holidays spent visiting family).

Based on Cindy’s suggestion to complete all Christmas decorating by the weekend after Thanksgiving, I thoroughly enjoyed immersing myself in the decorating process over the past few days. As I set up the Advent wreath and nativity scenes, arranged candles and poinsettias, hung garland on my front porch, and then decorated the tree with my husband, I thought about how some Christians avoid these activities because of concern over possible pagan origins. Of course, lights and trees aren’t what Christmas is all about, but is there really any good reason for Christians to avoid them in their celebration of the season?

I like how Elisabeth Elliot answers the question

My father-in-law, Dad Elliot, was one of those mentioned in Romans 14:5 who consider every day alike. He was pretty consistent about this when it came to Christmas and Easter, but he did consider Sunday (the Lord’s Day to him), different from the other six days in the week. Since he believed that Christmas trees had a pagan origin he could see no sense in having one in a Christian home. I don’t think he actually forbade it, but certainly didn’t help decorate it.

I’ve had a few letters asking me if I “believed in” Christmas trees. Never thought about believing in them, but I do enjoy having one. Celebration and ceremony have characterized the life of the people of God since Old Testament times—even in very little ways. I always put flowers and candles on the dinner table if possible. Though there are usually just two of us, I try to make it an occasion. It’s worth observing. Less frequent occasions are marked more specially. The virgin’s veil, a measured pace, a ring—these are visible signs of the deeply solemn reality celebrated in a wedding. Pink ribbons, showers, silver cups mark a baby’s birth. My Norwegian husband’s birthday calls for a bløtkake, a layered cake soaked with all sorts of good stuff that I wouldn’t fuss with except on
September 9.

I don’t think we need to rule out everything pagans do or did just because they did them. Christians have the only real reason for celebrating Christmas (or Easter). Why shouldn’t we invest an ancient custom with a Christian meaning? It’s the birthday of the King! What would you not do to make your house festive if He were coming?

Ought we not to signal the good tidings with great joy?

Preparing my home for the birthday of the King. I think I’ve found a whole new reason to enjoy Christmas decorating! :)

Photo: Uros Kotnik

Labor of Love

“And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.”

Luke 2:7

Merry Christmas to you all! May your hearts and your homes be filled with joy and peace as you worship our Lord Jesus Christ. Hallelujah, Light has come!

Photo: Hilde Vanstraelen

Jesus–the Joy of Christmas

“For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.”

2 Corinthians 8:9

Although millions will enjoy the activities of Christmas this year, believers alone will celebrate the meaning of this special day.  Knowing the Christ of Christmas makes all the difference…

Video: Jody Hill
Top Photo: Kurhan

Christmas Candle

“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined.”

Isaiah 9:2

Have you ever wondered what Mary and Joseph talked about on the night Christ was born? In his beautiful poem “Christmas Candle,” John Piper paints a portrait of a loving husband and wife who seek to encourage one another with the promises of God during the most exciting yet frightening night they’d
ever known.

Christmas Candle

The sun had just begun to set
And Joseph’s face, filled with regret
Appeared again. “We’ll find a place,”
Said Mary, full of hope and grace.
“I know we will,” she touched his chin
And bravely smiled, “Who needs an inn?
The sky is clear, the blankets thick
And warm; there’s still good light to pick
A place among the rocks we passed.
God’s first and best is often last.”
More times than he preferred to think
Poor Joseph’s faith would start to sink
And darkness gather like a foe
‘Til Mary’s hopeful heart would glow.
It wasn’t that he feared the night,
Nor prowling beasts nor thieves to fight.
In fact, it wasn’t fear at all
That made the tears begin to fall.
“It’s all right, Joseph, I don’t mind.
I’m sure it won’t be hard to find.”
“My God, you’re pregnant, woman, look!
What kind of husband ever took
His wife to sleep among the rocks?
I’m not a shepherd with some flocks;
I am a man and you’re my wife
With child.” She hugged him to the Life
Within her womb and said no more.
Wise woman, she had learned before:
Sometimes you leave a man alone
To bear his load of love, and groan.

She’d kept it to herself all day
And every time they came she’d pray
“Not yet, O God, not on the road;
Your handmaid bears as big a load
As she can take. O Lord, please wait;
Please let the child, your child, come late.”
She never burdened Joseph down,
Not even when they got to town,
Not even at the setting sun,
But only when the search was done.
He helped her down among the cocks
And hens. She smiled, “It sure beats rocks,
Especially for a night-time birth.”
“I’m in no mood for silly mirth.”
“Nor I.” “How long have you known this?”
“No anger now, my love, let’s kiss
The hour and kiss the ways of God.
Remember that his staff and rod
Are comfort, father David said.”
She winced and quickly shaped her bed.
“I helped to make your day’s load light;
Please, Joseph, carry me tonight.”
“I’ll get a midwife from the place…”
“Don’t leave me here without your face.
My mother showed me what to do
And what I need right now is you.”

Between the pains she tried to lie
In peace and stare into the sky,
And think of how she’d been prepared.
And then she said, “Joseph, I’m scared.”
And he with steady eye and calm
Recalled for her the angel’s psalm.
“He is the shoot of Jesse’s rod;
He shall be called the Son of God;
His Kingdom shall not ever end.
Will not God then his birth attend?”
But Mary’s face remained so grim:
“The promises are sure for him.
You know I never doubt God’s word,
But, Joseph, I have never heard
A promise for myself but this:
‘Some sword my own soul will not miss.'”
Again his eyes were steady, bright
Reflecting heaven’s grace and light.
“Our book is full of promises;
Remember that one where it says,
No good thing does the Lord withhold
From those whose cares on him are rolled.
And: when your worries multiply
God’s consolation hovers nigh.
And: steadfast love surrounds the girl
For whom Jehovah is her pearl.
And: God’s a stronghold for the weak,
How happy those who his help seek.”
Each time the birthing pangs withdrew
He gave her joyful words and true.
He carried Mary with the Word
And she delivered what she heard:
God’s Yes to every ancient oath.
And now with lifted hands they both
Were filled with distant prophecy:
“To God alone all praises be,
And let the world a candle light
To celebrate this awesome night.”

Photo: gc85

Happy Birthday to You, Jesus

Last Days Ministries has made available a never before released Christmas song written by Keith Green. Being the Keith Green junkie that I am, I wasted no time in downloading the song and an accompanying article written by Keith called “Christmas Mourning.” In this article, as in everything else in his ministry, Keith addressed his subject with both passion and boldness… 

The True Meaning of Christmas

I’ve heard a lot of talk (especially by Christians) about the true meaning of Christmas. I’ve seen Christians go in for all the trappings and trimmings. They spend hours, even days, in department stores trying to figure out what to buy for friends and relatives who already have everything they need… And all the while, a world full of starving, deprived people are silently, invisibly looking in through your living room window begging for a scrap of food, a rag to keep them from shivering to death, and an answer to their misery, suffering, and oppression.

When we consider all the money spent by all of us, during a season that’s greatest meaning is the Father giving us His only Son to come live and die for us, we must cry out against the injustice of an American, Christian people, who have so much and do so little. The true meaning of this season should be to give ourselves to the work of spreading the Gospel. Proclaiming freedom to the captives! Giving them bread to eat, then pointing them to the Bread of Life, to fill their hungry souls.

Some Suggestions

As a part of your Christmas celebration this year, we suggest taking your children to a ghetto, to a hospital, to an orphanage, to an old-age home. Teach them the meaning of giving. Teach them it is foolish for us to spend money on things we don’t need, and on things that others don’t need. Let them spread joy to those who are miserable! Let them give a smile to an old woman’s face, whose own children have forgotten and abandoned her in a convalescent hospital. Let them empty their piggy banks and send the money to missions and the poor. Let there be giving! Costly giving! Let us give our Lord Jesus the whole world for His birthday! The world and the Lord await our response…

Here’s the new song…

You can download “Happy Birthday to You (Jesus)” at KeithGreen.com for $1.29(Purchase also includes Keith’s 7 minute intro to the song and his article “Christmas Mourning”).



Photo: KeithGreen.com

The Message of the Magi’s Gifts

“When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. And going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother,
and they fell down and worshiped him.”

Matthew 2:10-11

Gold, frankincense, and myrrh–they are perhaps the most famous gifts ever given, yet not many of us know too much about them. In the following Q & A, John MacArthur explains the symbolism behind the trio of gifts presented to Jesus by the Magi…

In his sermon “The Christ of Christmas,” James Montgomery Boice offered the following points of application in light of the symbolism of the wise men’s gifts: 

There is a sense in which by faith we too may present our gifts of gold, incense, and myrrh.

Begin with your myrrh. Myrrh is not only a symbol of Christ’s death but also of the spiritual death that should come to you for your sin. Lay it at Christ’s feet, saying, “Lord Jesus Christ, I know that I am less perfect than you are and am a sinner. I know that I should receive the consequence of my sin, which is to be barred from your presence forever. But you took my sin, dying in my place. I believe that. Now I ask you to accept me as your child forever.”

After you have done that, come with your incense, acknowledging that your life is as impure as the life of the Lord Jesus Christ is sinless. The Bible teaches that there is no good in man that is not mixed with evil. But it also teaches that Christ comes to live in the believer so that the good deeds produced in his or her life may become in their turn “a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God.”

Finally, come with your gold. Gold symbolizes royalty. So when you come with your gold you acknowledge the right of Christ to rule your life. You say, “I am your servant; you are my Master. Direct my life and lead me in it so that I might grow up spiritually to honor and to serve you accordingly.”

If you have come believing in all that the myrrh, incense, and gold signify, you have embarked on a path of great spiritual joy and blessing. For those are the gifts of faith. They are the only things we can offer to the one who by grace has given all things to us.

~Excerpt taken from Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus by Nancy Guthrie

Christmas–Proof that God Is on the Move

Tullian Tchividjian, pastor of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church, recently wrote a beautiful article for the Crossway blog called “The Great Reversal.” These are wonderful thoughts to consider this Christmas season…

In C.S. Lewis’s masterful children’s story The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, he tells of a country, Narnia, which is under the curse of the White Witch. This evil queen places a spell on the land so that it’s “always winter and never Christmas.” Under her control, the future of Narnia looks bleak until word gets out that “Aslan is on the move.” In the story, Aslan is a noble lion who represents Christ. He’s coming to set things straight. He’s coming to destroy the White Witch and thus reverse the curse on Narnia. The first sign of Aslan’s movement toward this cursed land is that the snow begins to melt–“spring is in the air.” The cold begins to fade as the sun rays peer through the dark clouds, promising the dawn of a new day. Everything in Narnia begins to change.

You’ll have to read the book to see how the story ends, but when I’m asked to describe the true meaning of Christmas, I like to say that the birth of Christ is the sure and certain sign that “God is on the move.” The arrival of Jesus two-thousand years ago ensured that God had begun the process of reversing the curse of sin and recreating all things.

In Jesus, God was moving in a new way and, in the words of C.S. Lewis, “winter began stirring backwards.”

All of Jesus’ ministry—the words he spoke, the miracles he performed—showed that there was a new order in town: God’s order. When Jesus healed the diseased, raised the dead, and forgave the desperate, he did so to show that with the arrival of God in the flesh came the restoration of the way God intended things to be. New life was given, health was restored; God was reversing the curse of death, disease, and discomfort. The incarnation of Christ began the “great reversal.”…

Read the entire article HERE.

Celebrating Christmas the Right Way

“‘Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
and they shall call his name Immanuel’ (which means, God with us).”

Matthew 1:23

Does your Christmas season seem to be characterized by hustle and bustle instead of heavenly peace? While all the world around us may remain focused on shopping and rushing home with treasures, let’s not forget to slow down and turn our hearts to worship the true Treasure that arrived on a silent, holy night 2,000 years ago…

Image: Hilde Vanstraelen
Video: Dan Stevers

A Distinctively Christian Christmas

Yesterday, I shared Noel Piper’s explanation for why her family didn’t include Santa Claus in their Christmas celebrations. Noel goes on in her book to describe the many Christmas traditions that she and her husband designed to help keep their children’s attention focused on Christ, and in the following video clip, Noel’s husband, Pastor John Piper, describes several of these Christmas traditions. As you’ll soon discover, Christmas in the Piper home was a bit unconventional in some ways. Whether or not you like the ideas Dr. Piper presents, I think we can all learn something from his and Noel’s determination to make their Christmas celebration “distinctively Christian.” Some good food for thought on why we do what we do at Christmastime…

 

Photo: Vanessa Fitzgerald

Seeking Clarity on Santa Claus

“Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.”

James 1:17

In the book Treasuring God in Our Traditions, Noel Piper, wife of Pastor John Piper, explains some of the reasons why she and her husband chose not to make Santa a part of their Christmas celebrations. Whatever your beliefs regarding how this issue should be handled in Christian homes, I think you’ll find Noel’s thoughts helpful as you consider how to discuss the subject of Santa with your children, friends, or family. Since Christians are often prone to become either defensive or disparaging when the matter of Santa Claus is raised, I appreciate Noel’s thoughtful explanation of her family’s decisions:

For several reasons, we have chosen not to include Santa Claus in our Christmas stories and decorations. First, fairy tales are fun, but we don’t ask our children to believe them. Second, celebrating with Santa and manger will postpone a child’s clear understanding of what the real truth of God is. It’s very difficult for a young child to pick through a marble cake of part truth and part imagination to find the crumbs of reality. We want our children to understand God as fully as they’re able, at whatever age they are. so we try to avoid anything that would inhibit or distort that understanding.

Third, think how confusing it must be to a literal-thinking, uncritical pre-schooler. Santa is so much like what we’re trying all year to teach our children about God. Look at the “attributes” of Santa:

  • He’s omniscient–he sees everything you do.
  • He rewards you if you’re good.
  • He’s omnipresent–at least, he can be everywhere in one night.
  • He gives you good gifts.
  • He’s the most famous “old man in the sky” figure.

But at the deeper level that young children can’t comprehend yet, he is not like God at all…

Helping our children understand God as much as they’re able at whatever age they are is our primary goal. But we’ve also seen some other encouraging effects of not including Santa in our celebration.

First, I think children are glad to realize that their parents, who live with them all year and know all the worst things about them, still show their love at Christmas. Isn’t that better than a funny, old make-believe man who drops in once a year?

Second, our children know our family’s usual giving patterns for birthdays and special events. They seem to have an instinct about our typical spending levels and abilities. Knowing that their Christmas gifts come from the people they love, rather than from a bottomless sack can help diminish the “I-want-this, give-me-that” syndrome.

And, finally, when children know that God’s generosity is reflected by God’s people, it tends to encourage a sense of responsibility about helping make Christmas good for others.

~Treasuring God in Our Traditions, pp. 80-81

Photo: teodora vlaicu

The Real Story behind the Christmas Story

“She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus,
for he will save his people from their sins.”

Matthew 1:21

John MacArthur skillfully explains the real story behind the Christmas story. This is the perfect video to share with believers and unbelievers alike during the Christmas season…

Photo: Daniel Battiston

Planning for a More Compassionate Christmas

“…remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’”

Acts 20:35

Every year, I struggle with the materialistic focus that now seems almost inseparably linked with the celebration of Christmas. Although I’m certainly not against thoughtful gift-giving for family and friends, something clearly seems wrong when we spend hundreds (thousands?) of dollars buying loads of Christmas gifts for people who already possess more than they could ever need. If we’re truly going to honor Christ during this season marked for the special celebration of His birth, shouldn’t we follow His example and commands to care for the least among us?

There are probably countless ways that a family could exemplify the generous love of Christ during the Christmas season, but this is one that I think we should all consider–sponsoring a needy child through a trustworthy ministry like Compassion International. In case you think that child sponsorship won’t make much of a difference in a child’s life, watch this video testimony showing how an entire family was changed through Compassion’s ministry. 

What better way to teach your children this Christmas that it is more blessed to give than to receive?

In preparation for your Christmas celebration, you could print out a child’s photo and place it in a wrapped box under the tree. Then, as a family, you could read the child’s story together on Christmas morning and talk about how God has called you to care for others in need. You could even have a special Christmas card ready for everyone to write a message in and sign for your newly sponsored child. With a little planning, this could become one of the most meaningful moments of your entire Christmas celebration. 

To learn more about child sponsorship, visit Compassion International.

Photo: Compassion International

Ho-Ho-No

With Christmas only a little more than 3 weeks away, I thought I’d do a little something to help you out with your Christmas shopping. I know how difficult it can be to find the perfect gift for that special someone, so I thought I’d offer a few suggestions to eliminate some of your hassle.

But instead of providing you with a list of things you should buy, I’ve decided to give you some pointers on what not to buy. Once you know what to cross off your gift-giving list you’ll be that much closer to knowing what to put on it!

So, here we go…

  

First, do not buy this.

  

Or this.

 

Also note, you should not buy one of these.

 

You can scratch this one out as well.

 

And by all means, please don’t even consider purchasing this.

I’m sure there are many more items I could add to this list, but the above suggestions will serve as a helpful guide during your Christmas shopping endeavors. Here’s a simple formula to keep in mind:

Baby Jesus + Santa Claus = Bad Gift Idea

In case you’re wondering about the reasoning behind this formula, here are a few thoughts: 

  • Jesus Christ is the eternally existent Son of God; Santa Claus is merely a product of man’s imagination.
  • Placing an image of Santa Claus (even if depicted as kneeling or praying) next to an image of Jesus Christ does not elevate our opinion of our Savior, it elevates our opinion of Santa to an inappropriate position.
  • Depicting Jesus Christ and Santa Claus in the same scene suggests one of two unacceptable options: Santa Claus is fact, or Jesus Christ is fiction.

So, as you make your Christmas lists, be sure to check them twice–placing Santa Claus next to Jesus is anything but nice!

Photos: Family Christian Store
Top Photo: Kurhan