Bringing Christmas Home

bringing-christmas-home

It is all too easy for us to address Christmas as merely a bustle of ribbons and bows, wrapping paper and hot cocoa. However, each of us know that the memories that flood our minds of Christmas’ past encompass much more than that. Holiday movies, family traditions, familiar books, and everyday conversations around twinkling lights are the Christmas gifts we carry with us our lives long.

Our family has developed many traditions starting with our annual visit to Neely Christmas Tree Farm, followed by stringing lights with Dad outside as later mom decorates the tree into the wee hours of the night. Then there is the evenings shared in advent stories and lighting of candles. This year we have an actual advent wreath with candles; last year we merely pretended! A trip to Experience Bethlehem at a local church and a stroll amidst the lights at the botanical gardens are a few traditions that round out our list. These are just a few markings of the season for our family.

We bring Christmas home in the traditions we share and in the sharing of our material and spiritual blessings with others. Providing a shoebox to a child around the world, giving to support a missionary or a local child in need. Praying over the immense needs of people we know and those we read about…our own.

Perhaps my favorite way to bring Christmas home is in the sharing of story. Sitting around the Christmas tree, sipping on cider or cuddled in a cozy blanket, while we share in several familiar and a few new seasonal stories brings me tidings of true comfort and joy.

In all the ways that we celebrate Christmas, there are some central truths to our celebrations. The why behind the what that encompasses our season…

We bring Christmas home, because Christ left His home to dwell with mankind.

We each bring Christmas home, because the King of Kings humbled Himself, born as a babe in the lowliest of places, thereby identifying with the poorest among us both in spirit, body, and in means.

We bring Christmas home, because the Gift birthed for all mankind took on flesh and dwelt among us and we have seen His glory the glory of the Father’s one and only Son. (John 1:14)

We bring Christmas home, because we need to ponder all His ways and workings much like Mary pondered the events of His birth.

We bring Christmas home, because we are not home yet, and we await His coming again. The glorious arrival of heaven on earth for all of eternity.

We bring Christmas home, because we have all like sheep gone astray and God laid on Him the iniquity of us all. (Isaiah 53:6)

We bring Christmas home, because any given Christmas we are either the shepherds or the wise men: we must follow the evidence of promises yet unseen.

In all the ways we bring Christmas home, they serve a purpose to remind us that the bustle of the season isn’t the business of the season. The Christ-child is the business of the season, and the blessing as well. We celebrate Christmas because Jesus brought Christmas home to us. He is the gift.

Even if your Christmas isn’t swaddled in tradition or swaths of red and green this year, may you bring Christmas home to your heart this season and always.

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Christmas Has Its Cradle

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Christmas Has Its Cradle

by Rae E Whitney

Christmas has its cradle, where a Baby cried;

Did the lantern’s shadow show Him crucified?

Did He foresee darkly His life’s willing loss?

Christmas has its cradle and Easter has its cross.

Christmas has its cradle, shepherds came to see

Little Son of Mary Lamb of God to be;

Had His Father warned Him, none would grant Him room

Save in the Christmas cradle and in the Easter tomb?

Christmas has its cradle, Wise men came to bring

Myrrh and gold and incense, offerings for a King;

Myrrh alone stayed with Him, death’s balm for this Boy,

From the Christmas cradle and to His Easter joy.

Christmas has its cradle, where that Baby cried;

In the Easter garden, Christ lay, crucified;

When death’s power was conquered, God’s life through Him poured;

Christmas has its cradle and Easter has its Lord!

We celebrate Christmas in part for the manger, and in whole for the empty tomb. The One who came as the greatest gift wasn’t fully delivered until He finished the work He came to do: to seek and to save the lost. To take the punishment of mankind’s sins upon Himself then defeat death and conquer the grave. Hallelujah He is risen indeed makes provision for us to sing oh holy night and proclaim good tidings of great joy!

Christmas most likely finds many, if not most of us, weary of the sin-filled world where death temporarily stings and where Jesus’ rule has not yet been eternally established.

And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.

Galatians 6:9

And so, even as we celebrate Jesus’ first coming, we look towards His coming again when God’s Kingdom will reign in the new Heaven and new earth. Where all will be full of truth, beauty, and good. Where we can be joy-filled forever and live holy as He is holy. Where we can see face to face and know Him even as we are fully known by Him. Where we can live at peace with men and nature. Where all is reestablished aright.

Even so, come Lord Jesus, come!

May we ever strain our eyes towards Jesus and Heaven. May we major on the people and the work that is important, and minor on the mirage of material possessions, status, and striving for fleeting pleasures. May we live as Christ. Lord Jesus, help us to do so!

Christmas has its cradle and Easter has its Lord…

Merry Christmas,

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A Few of My Favorite Things

A Few of My Favorite Things

There are a few Christmas posts that have become my favorite over the years of blogging. I would love to share these with you as you remember Christ’s birth this Christmas Season. Several of these writings point to the reason for the season, and others, to hope for hurting hearts. May these words draw you closer to Christ.

Mary Christmas- A closer look at the mother of Jesus. (read)

Why Santa Doesn’t Deliver Presents to Our House (read)

It’s Beginning to Look A Lot Like Christmas (read)

Unpacking Christmas: The Empty Seat (read)

Unpacking Christmas: The Manger (read)

Of Christmas Without “Them” (read)

For When You Don’t Want to Trim the Tree (read)

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Homeland: Until We’re There

Homeland Part 3

He knows our need, our weakness is no stranger,
Behold your King! Before him lowly bend!

~O’Holy Night

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. (Hebrews 4:14, ESV)

We find find ourselves waking to a world akin to the setting Christ entered into over 2,000 years ago. He came to bring peace and redeem lost mankind; even now, especially now, the Prince of Peace is needed on this earth.

The hopeful message of Christmas is that God became man and sympathizes with our weaknesses, our daily needs, and the temptations that are common to man. He is no stranger to the sting of death, separation from loved ones, betrayal, want, and the disappointment of broken relationships and broken people. Christ knows that rejoicing in darkness is impossible apart from the Light of the world; so He came to deliver the Light–Himself–for all mankind. (See John 1:9-13)

He is the Light that gives birth to the sons and the daughters of God. He is the Light that pierces the darkness with the full knowledge of how the darkness bears weight on all mankind. Jesus drew near to us so that we could draw near to the Father. How are we to press on in the meantime? How do we live until we reach our Homeland?

Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.  (Hebrews 4:15, ESV)

And we desire each one of you to show the same earnestness to have the full assurance of hope until the end, so that you may not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises. (Hebrews 6:11-12, ESV)

So, until we reach our Homeland, until we cross the threshold of time and space to Heaven and eternity, Christ sets the example for us to follow. He gives us a great cloud of witnesses (Hebrews 12) to imitate their faith and patience so we may inherit the promises of God–eternal life through Christ Jesus.

For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come. Through him then let us offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name. Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God. (Hebrews 13:14-16, ESV)

He knows our needs, and to our weaknesses He is no stranger. Behold our King this Christmas season and before Him lowly bend. God is with us and if He is with us and for us, then none shall stand against us.

Wishing you a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year,

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Homeland: Finishing Well

HomelandFinishing Well

Each year as we approach Christmas, it is with the mindset that the new year is only days behind the unwrapping of our brown paper packages tied up with string. We pause amidst the hustle and the bustle of the season and wind down before preparing for New Year’s resolutions. We might make excuses to put off until next year what we can do today. We let the diet go, the dust bunnies settle, the visits to the gym wane. We might even give up on catching up on our daily Bible reading plan thinking we have fallen too far behind.

Today, I want us to think about the importance of finishing well. We have only 15 days left in this year. It would be easy for us to close shop, so to speak, and leave whatever is undone for a to do list in the new year, but we may miss out on the blessing of finishing well. Consider:

Better is the end of a thing than its beginning, and the patient in spirit is better than the proud in spirit. ~Ecclesiastes 7:8

In this Homeland series, we are taking to heart the model set by the greats of the faith in Hebrews 11. The cloud of witnesses considered themselves strangers and exiles on earth; speaking in such a way that they made it clear they were seeking a homeland: Heaven. The faith heroes of Hebrews 11 set the example for us to finish well. I believe this means in life in totality and in daily circumstances in general. We do not live faithful lives without first living faithful days.

Abraham was looking forward to the city that has foundations whose designer and builder is God. (Hebrews 11:10) This forward looking approach lead Abraham to make daily decisions to follow God no matter where the yeses led him. Did he blunder and bauble along the way? Most definitely! So will you and I. However, Abraham sets an example for us in that we should faithfully serve and trust God even when His promises seem slow in fulfillment or outside the time parameters that we would have chosen.

Who has God asked you to reach out to this year? What has He asked of you that you are tempted to put off until the New Year? What yes do we need to say in the last days of 2014 so that the first days of 2015 our feet are pointed in the right direction to pursue Christ and journey to our Homeland?

…let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:1-2, ESV)

Looking to finish well,

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Homeland: Evidence of Things Unseen

Homeland 2

Sometimes we are called to step out in faith into uncharted territory–into places or platforms that are novel and, most likely, nerve-wracking. Often we go with faith in God’s calling, or, occasionally, with great evidence of His will. Still other moments beckon with more subtle assurance in the still, small voice of God guiding us.

The shepherds were overwhelmed with immediate, miraculous indications that they had a short journey to make and an ultimate treasure to find. The wise men followed the star without the certainty of visible angels guiding their steps. How did the wise men know to look for and follow the star? Why would they pack up and leave their home in search of a King? 

The wise men were Magi, or Magio in the Greek. This is where the English word, magic, is derived from. The Magi were men of great knowledge and study, particularly in the field of astronomy. The Magi originated in Media and later Babylonia, Persia, Arabia, and India. They were considered a priestly caste of advisers to the nobles and rulers of those lands.

According to this article from the Institute for Creation Research (ICR, see here), there is an ancient tradition that Balaam, the prophet from Mesopotamia was an early member of the Magi. Perhaps you are most familiar with Balaam as the prophet reprimanded and spared by a talking donkey. (See Numbers 22:22-30) Well, Balaam also prophesied the coming Messiah would be accompanied in this way:

 a star shall come out of Jacob, and a scepter shall rise out of Israel. (Numbers 24:17)

Add to Balaam, the influence of Daniel, Mordecai, and Esther, to name a few, in the provinces of Babylonia and Persia and you have both Jews and Magi who took as their own, the God of the Jews, looking for a coming Messiah as foretold by His star rising in the sky.

Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. (Hebrews 11:1, KJV)

The Magi set out to find the Christ-child with as much evidence as the shepherds who heard the angels singing. They studied the patterns of the stars spoken into being. Their study and understanding of astronomy pointed them to the newborn-king when, as foretold, His star arose in the heavens. The evidence of things hoped for was at last present and the Magi were prepared to recognize the evidence and obey.

How are we preparing for our homeland of Heaven this season of our lives?

In what way are we prepared to see the evidence of Jesus and His return and react in obedience as disciple-makers?

How are we prepared to defend the evidence of the Creator God in a world full of agnostic and atheistic teachings heralded as the truth of intellectually inclined individuals?

The Magi who celebrated the Messiah were acting on the evidence of their faith. Indeed, they were acting in faith with the understanding of the stars in the sky. Those same stars which God had promised Abraham that his decedents would be more numerous than. The same starry sky that continues to proclaim evidence of a Creator.

By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible. (Hebrews 11:3, ESV)

The shepherds went in search of the King on the testimony of angels; the wise men on the fulfillment of prophecy. For us there is both. We must press on to live for the Homeland and point others to the King.

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Homeland: A Christmas Series

Homeland Part 1

When I was young in the mountains, I never wanted to go to the ocean, and I never wanted to go to the desert. I never wanted to go anywhere else in the world, for I was in the mountains. And that was always enough. (Cynthia Rylant, When I Was Young in the Mountains)

I have spoken to several men and women whom desire to live in a different place than where they are. Admittedly, several times in a given week or month, I am one of them. I often love the place I live and other moments I desire a grand adventure far, far away. This phenomena has prompted me to contemplate whether this is a perspective shared by historical accounts of men and women documented in the Bible. So far my search has turned up empty.

I believe the desire for novelty and adventure are good, and God-given, but I also wrestle with the reality that it can be a sign of ingratitude, discontent, and a blinding of my eyes to the mission God has given in the present, to the gifts of here and now. This Christmas God has guided my thoughts on the matter to the account of the shepherds and the wise men.

There are two groups of men that were called to worship and witness the Christ-child: the shepherds and the wise men. The shepherds traveled walking distance to witness the new born King of Kings. These men, by vocation, were homebodies often sleeping among the sheep they guarded and never going far from their flock.

And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them.  (Luke 2:17-18, ESV)

Conversely, the wise men traveled up to two years to witness the Messiah. Their journey started when they saw the star rise and set out to worship him.

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. Then, opening their treasure, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh. (Matthew 2:10-11, ESV)

In considering the missions of both these two vastly different groups of men, a few similarities stand out:

  • Their mission was to find the Christ and worship Him.
  • They were given a sign to know that they had found the Messiah.
  • They obeyed their assignment.
  • Their response was worship and joy.

Whether shepherd or wise man, pauper or prince, native or foreigner, those that are in Christ Jesus are each traveling to the same homeland. They are each integral parts to the story of the world, redemption, and the promised restoration of God’s creation. We each work in our areas of influence so that it too can be said of us as the cloud of witnesses in Hebrews 11:

For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city. (Hebrews 11:14-16, ESV, emphasis mine)

Shepherds heeded the heralding angels and the wise men followed the star; we are all called to follow the King. Each of us as part of the story should look to our homeland and work toward that same end. Let us find something in our surroundings today to be grateful for and to recognize the hand of God in our adventures near or far.

Have you encountered any men or women in the Bible who desired a grand adventure away from the place they were living? I would love to hear your answers if so. You can leave a comment below or e-mail me at Brooke.Cooney.1@gmail.com.

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Mary Christmas: A Closer Look at the Mother of Christ

Mary Christmas

Mary.  Some exalt her to an equal status of holiness with the Christ-child she carried in her womb, and others nearly ignore her in an effort to compensate for the idolization of her.

What does the Bible say about Mary and how is this important to our celebration of Christ’s birth this year and every year?

The Bible says that Mary found favor with God. (Luke 1:28, 30)

In considering the Biblical accounts of men and women who obtained the favor of the Lord, the following stand out: Noah, David, Job, and Mary.

How does the righteous and holy standing of Mary before God compare with other Hebrew people recorded in the Old Testament?

Noah was a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time, and he walked with God (Genesis 6:9, 7:1).  Yet, Noah’s righteousness did not mean that he did not sin because we see that just shortly after he left the ark he sinned by becoming drunk (Genesis 9:20-21, Ephesians 5:18).  David, was a man after God’s own heart (Acts 13:22), and yet we can all point to the fact that David sinned in his adulteress sexual relations with Bathsheba, and then subsequently having her husband killed. Job, in Job 1:1 is characterized as a man blameless and upright, who feared God and shunned evil. Yet, Job, when he had  seen God, said, I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes. (Job 42:5-6)

Our first encounter with Mary is similar in that the angel Gabriel declares, Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.  Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God.  (Luke 1: 28, 30) Based on the accounts of Noah, David, and Job, we can conclude that finding favor with God does not equal a sinless state.  (Romans 3:23) Further,we gain hope and encouragement that finding favor with God is possible for us as it was possible for Noah, David, Job, and Mary before us.

Let us rejoice in the fact that though we are wretched sinners God characterizes us as ones who gain His favor because of our faith in the Messiah and obedience to His commands.  For Noah, David, and Job it was God’s promised Messiah to come. For Mary and for us it is in belief in the Messiah that has come.

The Bible says that Mary believed God and was His faithful servant. (Luke 1:38, 45)

 My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed, for the Mighty One has done great things for me- holy is his name.” – Luke 1:46-49

Mary praised God for the honor of being the chosen vessel to birth the Messiah who would fulfill prophecy and redemption for all mankind.  We can glean an attitude of humility from Mary that God would choose to use us to accomplish His divine purpose and eternal plan.

Following the shepherds’ visit and Jesus’ staying behind in the temple, the Bible says that Mary treasured all these things and pondered them in her heart (Luke 2:19, 51) Mary, unlike us, wasn’t privy to cameras and recorders to capture all the special moments and firsts of Christ.  She had to record her beloved Savior’s face and firsts on the imprints of her heart and mind.  More than this, Mary pondered the ways and works of God.

In our hustle and bustle of the holiday season, and all of the year, we can neglect meditation on the words and works of God.  Mary sets another example of God-honoring living by thinking on Christ.

The Bible leaves Mary at the foot of the cross. (John 19:25-27) That is where we should leave Mary.  Not as an exalted figure by which we can speak to God, not as a iconic statue to be praised and worshiped, nor as a fashion accessory or good luck charm, but rather as Christ-servant and fellow sinner in need of the Savior. This is where everyone is found in relation to Christ–the foot of the cross.

In looking at Mary this Christmas, I will see her as:

  • A young woman who lived in such a way to please God that she gained His favor to be a chosen vessel for accomplishing God’s divine and eternal will.
  • One who believed God and served him faithfully.
  • One who pondered the ways of God and Christ.
  • One blessed to know Christ in infancy, life, death, and his glorified and resurrected state in heaven.

In response to the life of this godly woman I will:

  1. Like Mary, ponder God’s gift of Jesus and his way in which He accomplished Christ’s birth. See Luke 1 and 2.
  2. Put Mary in proper perspective this Christmas and praise the Creator not the created one.
  3. Walk humbly with God so at the right time God will see fit to use me…not all my life, but today and then the same tomorrow and the same tomorrow.

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Evaluating What Remains

Unpacking Christmas Evaluating What Remains

We return our decorations to their storage boxes to conclude another Christmas past. Upon evaluation of what remains, alongside the pine needles and glitter specks, I find wonder.

The wonder for Christians post-Christmas continues; the decorations are laid to rest year after year but our Savior lives on.

We pack away temporal Christmas treasures symbolizing peace, love, joy, and eternal hope; yet, eternal life is the gift that remains. No one can put a lid on the true meaning of Christmas because inexpressible light and joy promises to live on in the hearts of believers until such a time for His second coming.

The wrapping paper and boxes are disposed, the gifts received, and a few presents returned and in it all is this: The gift was given just over two thousand years ago and His is the gift which gives eternal.

As we embark on a new year, it is with the knowledge that no present brings peace and no gift brings reconciliation except the Christ whose birth we celebrate each year.

We stand on the threshold of a new year remembering His promises: Jesus will return and until such time He rewards those who live with faith and earnestly seeking Him. (Hebrews 11:6)

Happy New Year, dear ones. I look forward to seeking our Savior with you in the year to come.

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Unpacking Christmas: Three Gifts

 A Christmas Poem

Christmas dawned cool and bright; I awoke at 6 AM that morn’.
All the presents were still wrapped and the ribbon yet untorn.

I began to wonder with delight what the day’s festivities would bring
Would I get that iPod shuffle, a DVD, perhaps a ring?

After breakfast came three presents they were wrapped just as I liked.
When I shook them they were silent, small, and tender…was that right?

The first I gently opened wondering, “Was it delicate and sweet?”
I gasped as I discovered Forgiveness had been given me.

I wept as I recounted all the selfishness, anger, and pride
that had accompanied my character; those traits I try to hide.

I was thankful for this present, overwhelmed at such generosity
to be given what I hadn’t asked for, nor deserved, but yet would be
the greatest gift that only Christ could offer which cost His life on Calvary.
I lingered with Forgiveness one more moment then proceeded to open next,
a present a little larger and more glittery than the rest.

Grace and Mercy came pouring out as soon as I unwrapped the ribbon then
light shone all around it as I gingerly looked in.

Ah, Grace, greater than all my sins which beckons me to come
and Mercy to let me visit with my Savior and consider all that He has done.

Grace, which accompanies Forgiveness but continues to set me free
to pursue the King of Glory and to know the King of Kings.

I marveled once more at Mercy that would allow me to behold
a precious gift much greater than all my weight in gold.
Could there be more to this Christmas? One more present still left beneath the Christmas tree?
I rubbed my eyes in wonder as His Spirit had set me free.

The third gift looked more rustic a little rough that was clear to see.
I eagerly unwrapped this present and was astonished to see… me.

A dirty mirror met my gaze and I started then to fret
as I picked up a note inside then proceeded to read it.

11 When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me.
12 For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.
13 And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.
1 Corinthians 13:11-13

Dear One,

I have saved you to make My Name and Glory known among the nations.  Let us move beyond your childish ways this year and clean this mirror together. It is not an easy task, but with Me all things are possible.  Let’s make this a year to love others. I want to use you to extend Forgiveness, Grace, and Mercy to all mankind. Will you join me?

Love,

I Am

Oh, Christ whose grace is greater than all my wicked sins,
would you choose to use this vessel though it is dirty deep within?

That you would change me and use me to set other captives free.
Yes, I will join you on this journey, take up my cross and follow Thee.
Will you join us on this journey, take up your cross and follow He?

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