December 26

                This is one of the important times of the Christian year, the time when we celebrate the first part of the act of Ultimate Love: Jesus coming into the world. Poets and hymn writers have tried to convey what that must have been like, but I think English poet Christina Rossetti said it the simplest way, and the best way: “Love came down at Christmas.” Simple, honest, no further explanation needed.
            Other hymns are more complicated. For example, when Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote the words to “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day,” the nation was at the peak of the Civil War, a time that spawned much violence and hatred. Longfellow despaired that the message of love could break through the strong hatred gripping the nation. Though it starts out on a depressing note, it ends on a ray of hope: Even though hatred is strong, God is still in control, and there will still be peace on earth, goodwill to men.

            As we head toward an uncertain future, we would all do well to remember this saying: “There are two wolves that are constantly fighting. One is darkness and despair; the other is light and hope. The question is, Which one will win? The one you feed.” We cannot deny that there is darkness out there, but as long as we keep feeding the light and hope we have in Jesus, we may be assured that we will get through the darkness.

December 14

When we light the Advent candles, it reminds us of the four virtues that Jesus brings us: Hope, Love, Joy, and Peace. A few years ago during the Advent season, I watched a movie, “Silent
Night: The Story of the World War I Christmas Truce”.  It was based on the true story of the cease fire initiated by British, French, and German soldiers on the front on Christmas Eve in 1914. Over 100,000 soldiers are reported to have participated in this legendary truce. It began with Christmas carol singing. The British would sing one of their carols, then the French, and then the Germans would sing one of theirs. In a letter found, one of the soldiers wrote about singing “O Come All Ye Faithful” together. Other soldiers wrote about how they mingled and traded cigarettes and small trinkets. What an amazing sight that must have been! I believe all four virtues Jesus brings must have been felt by those soldiers for a brief time on that Christmas Eve and Christmas Day in 1914. Christ’s presence was there on the battlefield during the Christmas Truce. May we all feel Jesus’ presence with us not only during this Advent season but every day!


December 5

            “Now the birth of Jesus, the Messiah, took place in this way….” (Matthew 1:18)  S0 begins the biblical narrative of the birth of Jesus in the first book of the New Testament. It is a narrative on two levels. First of all, for those immediately concerned, it is a time of incredible stress.  Joseph and Mary are not married but Mary is pregnant; Joseph is anguished about what to do, about what people will think and say, about what is the honorable thing to do for Mary whom he loves and for himself.  Mary is very young, not ready for this, and she takes a trip to seek succor from her relative, Elizabeth. By the time the pregnancy is far advanced, Joseph and Mary must take a long, arduous donkey ride to Bethlehem merely to register for a census.  Talk about mounting pressure, things happening at the least opportune times, the uncertainty of the future being terrifying---all this is just that. This first level is about human suffering.

            But the second level is about God and God’s purposes.  In it is the news that God cares for Joseph and Mary and reassures them; about God caring for the whole human family, about God having purposes transcending our daily ups and downs.

            And Joseph and Mary, being persons of faith, found in God’s promises and assurances, the strength to make decisions and go on.

            This is about the time in the Christmas season when most of us get to feeling overwhelmed---making plans for the holidays, doing chores that seem to have to be done to prepare for it, addressing cards, wrapping gifts, baking, and maybe being confronted by the unexpected such as illness, bad weather, un-forseen demands. 

            That level of things can get to us; it has been known to overwhelm in some cases. And it’s not particularly because we take them too seriously, but because they are all things in which our love for family and friends and others is involved, and doing them means so much to us. But if our hearts and minds are set on God, we can keep our perspective.  The heart of Christmas isn’t that God will keep us from overwhelming pressure, but that God loves us through that pressure and in the end, God sent the Son to save us.  That can keep us steady, even as it did Joseph and Mary.