Sunday, December 27, 2009

Merry Christmas! Now Comes the Tricky Part...

from Susanne Dietze

We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.
Romans 8:22-25.

Advent CandlesImage by zizzybaloobah via Flickr
Merry Christmas! Yes, I do own a calendar and I know what day it is, but in my liturgical parish, we’re still celebrating Christmas today. In fact, we keep on celebrating right until Epiphany on January 6 (that makes today Day 3 of the Twelve Days of Christmas. You know -- just like the song, minus the milkmaids, musicians, and various fowl, of course!). Therefore today, all of the fragrant greenery remains in place in the sanctuary; the Nativity scene is fully stocked with angels, animals, shepherds and the Holy Family; and the advent wreath hangs in its prominent place, with the large white Christ Candle lit in its center (the four advent candles in purple and pink are lit, too.). This morning, we’ll be belting out “O Come All Ye Faithful” and “Joy To The World” just as loudly and joyfully as we did during Thursday night’s and Friday’s Christmas services.

Christmas Day may be officially over, but I’m sure that no matter what our church backgrounds, most of us still have our decorations up at home – some of us until New Year’s Day, perhaps (my hand is raised!). Christmas is fun, and many of us yearn to make it stretch as long as we can. We don't want Christmas to end.

I imagine that Mary, the mother of our Lord, might not agree. She was probably glad to have Christmas over with. Like any expectant mother, she’d probably yearned to see the face of her precious baby – her son and her Lord. My favorite Christmas hymn, “Of The Father’s Love Begotten,” describes it like this:
bundled.Image by capturedbychelsea via Flickr

O the birth forever blessed, when the Virgin full of grace,
by the Holy Ghost conceiving, bore the Savior of our race;
And the Babe, the world’s Redeemer, first revealed His sacred face,
ever more and ever more!
His face, His sacred, glorious face, must have looked so sweet to Mary after nine long months of waiting…and who-knows-how-many-hours of labor endured in a stable.

The labor which brought forth Jesus ended, of course, but the passage from Romans tells us that the world is still “groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time." The world is aching for redemption, for things to be made right and for all of creation to know God’s love and transforming power. Every person who doesn’t know Jesus as Lord is lacking the most important gift they can ever know, the most life-changing relationship they’ll ever have. And the fall-out from living in a world infected by sin is obvious: millions of the world’s children go hungry, lack medicine or clean water, and human beings suffer under horrible conditions in every country on earth, including our own.

We may not live in neighborhoods rife with malaria, diphtheria, or crime, but our neighborhoods, and our neighbors, are fallen nonetheless.

In light of this need for redemption, CS Lewis reminds us of our responsibility. Each person we meet is an immortal being, headed toward one of two destinations. Heaven or hell, one or the other.

Are we treating each other like immortal beings? Are we helping lead others heavenward by our acts, prayers, and words, or are we standing idly by while they perish? Because of Christmas, we as Christians have faith, “for in this hope we are saved.” But how many people in our lives (our co-workers, neighbors, or families, no matter how much we like them or we can’t stand them) are hopeless?

One of the truths of Christmas is that Jesus came to give hope to the world. To save the world.

As joyful as Christmas is, it is also a painful reminder of how much we need a savior, how broken we are as sinners, and how loving and giving God is to send His son to dwell among us. The world He came to save and redeem is broken, and needs the healing help only Jesus can provide.

Astonishingly, He’s called us to be part of that task, to be on His team. He said, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few” (Matthew 9:37). Paul reminds us to “hope for what we do not yet have”… the Gospel message to be spread to every heart, God’s love to be presented to all.

So as you pack up your Christmas decorations this week, don’t pack away the best thing about the holidays: the love Jesus has shown you in coming to dwell among us, to save us and redeem us. My goal is to cling tight to that hope, and then go and share it with those immortal beings I meet who are heading toward one of two destinations. I hope you’ll cling to it, too.

The work of Christmas is begun!
Speaking of packing up ornaments... Do you have a favorite ornament, something you treasure from year to year? Where did you get it? What's it like?
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  1. I wish I were packing my decorations! Instead, we will have another Christmas party on the 9th of January or later! Ugh!
    Happy New Year!

  2. Susie,

    Sometimes, like today, I feel some sadness when I think of people celebrating Christmas and having no real idea of the personal part of knowing Christ as Lord. People I know and love.

    And what have I done to change that?

    Thanks for this morning's devotional!

  3. Good morning!

    Happy New Year to you, too, Karla! I hope your party goes well and is lots of fun.

    I'm not packing up my stuff until Jan 1, probably. The house looks so barren afterwards, without all the "stuff."

    Thanks for coming by!

  4. Hi Deb! I'm so glad you came by this morning. I was thinking about you with the weather report, wondering if you're buried in snow.

    I know this devotional is similar to Wenda's Thursday post in some ways (though not half as articulate), but it does sadden me that so many seem to have lost the reason Why Jesus came, and What He came to do. The triumph and beauty of Christmas doesn't end December 26. As Christians, we've been given a job!

    So, do you have a favorite ornament? I have a lot of them. You may be utterly unsurprised to learn that I have a teapot/teacup ornament collection. By collection, I mean, ah, eight or nine. But I love 'em all. Some came from friends; two from my mom; and a few I raided off a tree at a tea house during their half-off sale. I think they're sweet.

    Another favorite ornament is a ball with the Nativity painted from the inside. It's really lovely and I marvel at the painter's skill, because I couldn't paint anything half as good on the outside of the ball.

  5. I can't say I have a favorite one. Every year my children got an ornament of their own and the tradition continues. Good thing they have their own homes and trees now because we were running out of space.

    You won't be surprised that I have many of the Scarlett O'Hara ornaments! But I love the ones my kids made in school and sunday school that are falling apart construction paper or macaroni the best.
    I try to collect from my favorite travel destinations too.

  6. PS Susie, stop comparing your writing to others. Rule for 2010. Wenda's was excellent. Yours is excellent. Period!

  7. I think my favorite ornaments are the white, shimmery snowflakes. We'll leave our tree up until the New Year. I will be saddened as always to say goodbye to it. But we'll pack it away until next year's season of remembrance.

  8. Ok, Deb. I'm nodding!

    As to ornaments, I love the kid-made ones too. It was really sad last year when we had to throw out some creations decorated in cereal that bugs had feasted on.

    Lisa, what are the snowflakes made out of? They sound beautiful. I love to see ornaments glow in the tree light.

  9. Beautiful devotional.
    Along the same lines, in our church today, our pastor spoke about Simeon's words to Mary & Joseph when they presented him at the temple. Specifically to Mary, "and a sword will pierce your heart" - as a foreshadow of what was to come. Wow!

    What a story! What a promise!
    Thanks for sharing

  10. Beautiful devotional.
    Along the same lines, in our church today, our pastor spoke about Simeon's words to Mary & Joseph when they presented him at the temple. Specifically to Mary, "and a sword will pierce your heart" - as a foreshadow of what was to come. Wow!

    What a story! What a promise!
    Thanks for sharing

  11. Pepper, thank you! Those words of Simeon's have always touched me. I have chills right now! Can you imagine what Mary and Joseph must have felt, hearing that? Or what terror struck their hearts when Joseph was warned in a dream to flee before Herod got there?

    I was originally going to do a devotional on the Holy Innocents today, those Bethlehem baby boys whom Herod ordered killed. I ended up putting it on my personal blog for tomorrow b/c it got, well, personal. But within the joy of Christmas, to me, is a sadness, because without Jesus, the world is hopeless. It makes me sad to think of my neighbors who live without the Hope that is Jesus Christ, our Resurrected Lord and Savior.

  12. Immortal souls heading toward one of two destiniations... great reminder.

    Today I became a Southern Baptist Minster's Wife. Dani got officially ordained. Sounds like we'll be doing a lot of that spreading the gospel stuff if the words given over him this morning were any indication.

    Favorite ornament: I have several glass ballerinas. The prettiest poses are ceramic ones, but I also have a crystal ballerina that shimmers nicely in the lights.

  13. Dina, congratulations! What a joy! I am so happy for you and Dani. I pray God's blessings, strength and peace for you as you embark on this new path in your journeys of service to the Lord!

    What a joy, too, that his parents are here to join in the celebration.

  14. Actually, Susanne, his ordination was approved a month or two ago, but they decided to wait and hold the ceremony while his parents were in town.

  15. Dina, that's wonderful. What a blessing that Dani's parents could be part of it.

  16. Susanne, thanks for this wonderful devotional. It was excellent, and I so agree with Deb. You shouldn't compare your writing to others. (Unfortunately, I do the same thing.) Your post and Wenda's post were both so full of meaning for me.

    Somehow, I'm not surprised that your favorite ornaments are teacups and that Dina's are ballerinas. It goes so perfectly with what I know about both of you.

    Dina, congratulations to you and your husband. I think it's so great they waited for his parents to have the ceremony. Be blessed.

  17. Suzie, thanks for your kind words, and for stopping by on your busy weekend! I hope you're well-rested. I hope you get a few days off now!

  18. Susanne, thanks for the thoughtful words and the challenge. Of the Father's Love Begotten is one of my favorites too, and I enjoyed singing it in church today. To think that our God who is Love took our flesh upon Himself to save us - how could we ever be silent?

    I have a couple favorite ornaments. One is a little blue angel given to me when I was a baby - it reminds me of childhood Christmases. The other is a triangular one that symbolizes the Trinity- it reminds me of the great mystery of the Incarnation.

  19. Hi Susie,
    Great post. I think I'll go back and read it again. I don't even think about packing up ornaments and such until after my birthday on January 11th (hint, hint) :).

    My favorites are the doggie and kitty ornaments we have. This year you should see our tree. We couldn't find most of our ornaments. Have no idea why we can't locate them. Maybe it's the clutter in our basement.:)

  20. Karl, thanks so much for coming by today. Those are sweet ornaments. I love how so many of our ornaments have a story. I was glad when we sang my fave hymn in church today, too. It reminds me a bit of the Gospels: in one verse, there's the grand scope of the Incarnation, like in John's Gospel, so huge and all-encompassing in its import to the universe. Then in the second verse, it narrows into the small, intimacy of the birth, like in Luke's Gospel, where we look at Jesus' little face. I guess it also reminds me of Revelation in the last verse, where heaven sings glory to God. Very powerful to me.

    Thanks for the kind words, Jill. So, we have just over two weeks before you pack your tree, eh? And celebrate something else??? :-) I have a winter birthday too. Any special plans yet?

    I want to hear more about your animal ornaments. Do they resemble your pets?

  21. I also think my inspirational writings aren't as deep or spiritual as others (and they aren't) but I've been told not everyone wants to read indepth every time, either, so I'm fine with that.

    I have a nativity set collection which I enjoy setting up and looking at although they're scattered around the house. My fav tree ornaments are these plastic 5" icicles which add contrast to the round balls and draped garlands. I bought them over 30 yrs ago and they stored light and shone in the dark the first few yrs but now they just look like iclicles. And I also have an 18" ceramic tree my daughter made over 20 yrs ago and it always sits on my kitchen counter. I guess I can't pick just one favorite. :D

  22. Anita, I firmly believe that as inspirational writers, we're supposed to write what God calls us to write -- and it may not look like anybody else's, but it's no less a response to God's call. I've heard other writers put down category romance, which is what I write, but there is a specific audience that God wants to reach with that style of writing. Same goes with edgy fiction, sci fi, whatever. We're all in the Body of Christ! So I've resolved to keep on writing how God made me to write!

    It is so hard to pick a favorite ornament, isn't it? Yours sound fun and I'm with you on the Nativity scenes. Lovely!

  23. Hey Susie,
    Some of our animal ornaments are bobble head critters. You know the kind. One may look like one of our doggies, but that's about it. We used to have a cat that sat in the Christmas tree and stared out at you when you least expected it.:)

  24. Cute, Jill! I'm glad you're still enjoying them. My ornaments are up too. Gotta get a few more days' enjoyment out of them!


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