Christmas with a Capital C

Yes, I am recovering from my illness, slowly but surely!  I’m not 100% yet but I can’t miss the chance to delight in Christmas.  When else can one walk in the public spaces, malls and schools singing about Christ together with everyone else?  Even when I was in Thailand, a mostly Buddhist country, they had Christian Christmas carols playing everywhere! Amazing.

And yet…there is this battle between “Merry Christmas” vs “Seasons Greetings” or “Happy Holidays.” Why do North Americans insist on taking Christ out of this season?  As  the comedian says in Go Fish’s Christmas With a Capital C, “No one wants to say Merry Christmas because of the name of Christ.  After 2000 years he’s still intimidating people!” (approximate paraphrase!).

8 And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. 9 An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,
14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”  Luke 2:8 – 14 NIV

I could say a lot about Christmas; many have.  But what seems to touch my heart right now is the phrase that the angel said, “Do not be afraid.”

O come, O come, Emmanuel
And ransom captive
Israel
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God
appear
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

There are many in the world who are living in exile right now.  When you mention Christmas it reminds them of many things:  they’re away from family, they’re tired, lonely, sad, desperate, lost.  I think for some there is a fear in saying the name of Christ.  There is a power about it.  It makes us feel the depth of our emptiness if we are separate from God.

“Happy Holidays” is easier to say.  There is no suggestion of Lordship or obligation or conviction.  No mysterious sense of missing something.  We don’t have to really love to say “Seasons Greetings”.

I encourage you to remember this season that Christ is the reason for our joy and celebration at this time.  Not what we have or don’t have.  Not where we live or whether we are single or married.  But rather the hope that God promised us all those centuries ago that is fulfilled in His perfect Son, Jesus Christ.  And that this joy is for all people.  Let’s not be afraid!  Let’s love those who are hardest to love.  If God can do it, surely with His help, so can we!  And let’s remind people that this is the season of joy, of Christmas! Of the best gift of all time:  the gift of Christ!

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We Win!

Change is the end result of all true learning. 
―Leo Buscaglia

Yes, I have learned something over this Christmas time.  And perhaps my way of thinking has been changed.  So, naturally, I want to share it with you.

I was visiting my parents over Christmas and ended up at their church service on Sunday morning.  The pastor was talking about Advent, which is something that I’d heard talked about many times before so I was kind of daydreaming (surprise, surprise…). But then he said something that made me (literally!) sit up and take notice.

ad·vent

/ˈadˌvent/
noun
The arrival of a notable person, thing, or event.
(Thanks to Google)

We Christians often think of Advent as a time of year (the four Sundays preceding Christmas) but really it is the discription of an event–the coming of Christ.

Yes, you may say to me, we know that.

BUT what if this is not just a backward looking celebration?  Is Christ not coming again?  Should we not celebrate the first coming of Christ as a baby but also (with much anticipation) the future second coming of Christ as King of Kings and Conqueror?

Wow.

This totally put Christmas in a different perspective for me.  Yes, it’s cool to think of Christ coming as a baby to the earth and to enjoy celebrating His birthday.  But this was only the whispered beginning.  Let us not forget the Triumphant End!!  Let’s celebrate His second Advent along with His first!

Celebrate Christmas next year like victors!  We’ve read the end of the book.  We win!

Goria in Excelsis Deo: My Favourite Christmas Songs

December may come with snow and lights and holiday baking, but until I’ve listened the first time to Nat King Cole’s A Christmas Song, Andy Williams’ Merry Christmas and Boney M’s The 20 Greatest Christmas Songs it is just not Christmas.  I grew up listening to these albums (and, yes, they actually were record albums!) and it’s amazing how just hearing Nat King Cole singing O Holy Night can bring with it that sense of Christmas for me!

I have laboured (for days, actually) to make up a short list of my 12 favorite Christmas songs.  It was hard work to stick to only 12 (actually, I failed–but I came close…) for the girl who has 26+ Christmas albums (and, yes, I do have 13 versions of Silent Night…).  Some of them are old versions but they really are fabulous.  So here we go in no particular order…

My Top 12 (or 13) Christmas Songs 
(I couldn’t find videos for all of the songs.  I apologize for some of the videos–some of these songs are old and don’t have actual videos associated with them  :D)

1).  Joy sung by Cindy Morgan (http://vimeo.com/34711867)

2).  Christmas Shoes sung by Newsong (this one makes me cry–but listen to it anyway)  (http://www.youtube.com/watch?gl=CA&v=MpkI7GW2V34)

3).  O Come, O Come Emmanuel sung by Margaret Becker (if you haven’t heard this version, it is fabulous) (http://vimeo.com/25535594)

4).  All is Well sung by Nathan Wadley on MW Smith’s album, Christmas

5).  O Holy Night sung by Nat King Cole  (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T4uP32mnAjY)

6).  I Wonder as I Wander sung by Jewel

7).  Mary, Did You Know sung by author Mark Lowry  (http://www.youtube.com/watch?gl=CA&v=_U2G8wsbXBo)

8).  The Wexford Carol sung by Alison Krauss (found on Yoyo-Ma’s Songs of Joy and Peace)  (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yxDZjg_Igoc)

9).  I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day (hymn book version, with choir…mmm!) Words by Henry Longfellow!

10).  When A Child is Born sung by Boney M (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K7CleKUNBFw)

11).  Breath of Heaven (Mary’s Song) sung by Amy Grant (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rW2OBT-5qfc)

12).  A Cradle in Bethlehem sung by Nat King Cole  (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u99schV5GaA)

13).  This Baby sung by author SC Chapman  (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z1wlZoN6h9M)

And just for extra merit, I will add in a couple of my favourite versions of holiday songs as a bonus!

1).  Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer sung by Jewel and her mother Nedra Carroll(this is such a fun version!  If you don’t listen to any of the others you should listen to this one!)  (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hl8BMR1VyLg)

2).  Kay Thompson’s Jingle Bells sung by MW Smith on his album Christmastime  (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aq1-xd4PtoM)

3).  Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy (played by the London Symphony Orchestra if you can get it).  (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5o6I7_nzIt0)

Please enjoy these song suggestions and I hope you capture the true meaning of Christmas this year–the height and depth and width of God’s great love for you!

Humbug…

I am back safe and sound from my travels abroad!  And yes, I did learn something abroad that might be appropriate to pass on to you.  One must always be learning something…

So!  I have learned that travel is my humbug.

What does that mean?

I think most people have at least heard of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, the story of Ebenezer Scrooge and the Spirits of Christmases Past, Present, and Yet to Come.  Scrooge’s most famous saying is that which he used in response to his nephew’s hearty ‘Merry Christmas, Uncle Scrooge’:  humbug!  What he basically means is that he disregards the importance of Christmas in his life and despises the assumption that he has to practice it.  An interchange with his clerk, Crachit, on Christmas Eve displays his ‘humbug’ attitude to Christmas:

“You’ll want all day [off] tomorrow, I suppose?” said Scrooge.

“If quite convenient, Sir.”

“It’s not convenient,” said Scrooge, “and it’s not fair. If I was to stop half-a-crown for it, you’d think yourself ill-used, I ‘ll be bound?”

The clerk smiled faintly.

“And yet,” said Scrooge, “you don’t think me ill-used, when I pay a day’s wages for no work.”

The clerk observed that it was only once a year.

“A poor excuse for picking a man’s pocket every twenty-fifth of December!” said Scrooge, buttoning his great-coat to the chin. “But I suppose you must have the whole day. Be here all the earlier next morning!”  (from A Christmas Carol)

So, Mary, you say, how is travel your humbug?

Well, friends, I say, I have noticed that when people travel some of their habits (and even good sense) seem to drop away, as if to say that they are ‘disregarding the importance of it in their lives’.  For example, I read a statistic once that stated that somewhere around 94% of travellers within the first 3 days of travel will break at least one of the rules regarding safe food or water intake.  And these rules are important!  Yes, traveller’s diarrhea may not kill you, but Hepatitis B could!  And yet people disregard these rules on a regular basis as not important!

A lot of regular habits can fall away when we are away from home:  adequate (and safe!) water intake, diet, sleep, physiotherapy exercises, Godly pursuits…

AHA!  We are finally to it!  The first day or two of my trip I was good–I was drinking water, eating carefully, getting sleep, doing my physio exercises, and reading my Bible and praying.  Then…the humbug fell over me…I started to skip a few of these items each day.  Which one did I notice the most by the end of the week?  The sliding away of my daily time with God.

Why is it that something so important to my daily health and safety could slide away?  This is the humbug spirit.  Satan is good at slipping thoughts into our heads–Oh, I’m on vacation!  It doesn’t really matter, does it?  This is when we need to cling to Christ the strongest!  Isn’t it on vacation that we do the worst sorts of things?  Why do you think they coined the phrase ‘what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas’?

We need to be constant in our Christian discipline.  Look at the following verses.

And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people. Ephesians 6:18 NIV

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us… Hebrews 12:1

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified. 1 Corinthians 9:24 – 27

So, practically, what will I do next time I travel to keep the ‘humbug’ of travel away?

1).  I will print off the above verses and work at memorizing them over my holiday and meditating on them throughout my stay.

2).  I will plan out a Bible study for each day I am gone.  It won’t be huge, but a few verses to contemplate and a time for prayer every day.

3).  I will try to enlist my travelling companion into my plan (someone to gently ‘remind’ me of my goal!).

Will it work?  If I pray before the trip, during the trip, and after the trip for this to work I’m sure it will (it will have already worked!).  I will have to keep you informed!

Happy (and Holy) Travels!