The Light of Joy

One of the things about the Christmas season that I get very excited about is lights. I love the look of houses outlined in tiny specks of shimmering light, whether they are white, green, red or blue, I love them all. I enjoy driving home from somewhere and seeing how many houses are embellished with twinkling splendor. Now don’t judge me, but I also enjoy seeing Christmas trees inside people’s homes. It’s not that I am being nosy. After all, don’t we put our trees in windows for that purpose, so the outside world can see our beautiful displays of light?

Pixabay

Pixabay

What is it about light that we so enjoy? I know that most of us would rather be out and about when it is day time. We enjoy when morning comes and feel loss at the slipping away of light as night time takes over. I personally have to convince myself that darkness is good and God allows the darkness so that we may rest. What I find fascinating about this God of ours is that He didn’t leave us in total darkness. He provided, even before sin became a reality, He provided the moon and the stars to rule the night, so even in darkness the light is still meant to preside.

Pixabay

Pixabay

There is a lesson here for us, if we are willing to see it. Light is always present even in the darkness. Darkness is, for lack of a better definition, the absence of light. But even in the deepest and darkest dark, somewhere there is still light. If we lost all electricity, the sun would still rule the sky by day and the moon and stars by night. As long as God allows the planets, stars, moons and sun to hang in space, there will always be light. What if those things disappear, or burn out? What if there is nothing left, but darkness? That will never be the case, because God is light and in Him there is no darkness.

Pixabay

Pixabay

When we think of Christmas we often have images of children playing, laughing and looking with awe and wonder at the lights and decorations. Can you even imagine a Christmas without the idea of child like joy being a part of it? I realize, not everyone grew up with wonder filled Christmases like many of us did. Some of you may not even celebrate Christmas or may think of it as merely an overly commercialized holiday meant to line the pockets of corporate America. Whether you celebrate Christmas or not, I think most of us can relate to the idea of joy.

Pixabay

Pixabay

Joy is often misunderstood. It is regularly mistaken for happiness, but joy is eternal, whereas happiness is temporary. Let me see if I can explain this in a way that makes sense. Joy is light. Joy comes out in dazzling displays like fireworks and rocket launches, but it also twinkles like Christmas lights and candle flames. The difference is that when the fireworks and rockets are burned out and the Christmas lights break and the flame smokes, joy still shines. The reason for this came in the form of a bundled baby boy, born in a stable over two thousand years ago.

Pixabay

Pixabay

No matter how deep the darkness is, joy still shines. There is no darkness or evil thorough enough to overcome joy. You might not feel like you have joy right now. Maybe you feel like you have never had joy, but you know those moments that bring tears to your eyes; those moments are shimmers of joy. You experience them when a movie has a happy ending or a musical movement runs together into a river of sound so beautiful it sweeps you along with it. You experience it when you come upon a breathtaking view or stand at the water’s edge when the sun begins its descent into a cloudless sea. This is joy.

Pixabay - nativity

Then when life tries to break you and you cannot hear the music or see the sunset, that is when you must reach back and in, deeper and deeper, to the event where joy first burst onto the scene of humanity. A virgin birth. Shepherds watching their flocks. Animals in the stable. A straw filled manger. This event was and is and evermore shall be the birth of joy. At that moment joy moved from happiness to an eternal possibility. Joy became the essence of bliss.

If you believe in that light, then even when all is dark, all you have to do is call his name. Jesus. And that light of joy will explode, once again in your soul and the darkness will scatter.

How to Keep Christ in Christmas

Last week I discussed Getting Through the Holidays Without Losing Your Mind. You can read that post by clicking on the link. In that article I gave four areas to look at to take care of yourself during the busy holiday season. Those areas I referred to included, figuring out what you can let go of, setting boundaries, taking care of yourself and practicing gratitude. These things are applicable to all who experience stress during the Christmas season. This week I would like to specifically speak to those who celebrate Christmas as a religious holiday.

Pixabay

Pixabay

For those of us who follow Christ, Christmas is equal in importance to the celebration of Easter. If Jesus had never been born, we wouldn’t have access to the Almighty God, who created us for His good pleasure. Christmas is the epitome of strength becoming weakness; that almighty power coming into acute focus as the baby born to Mary. He was fully God and became fully man. Imagine, a being who is so huge in our incomprehension, being made into a tiny, fertilized seed, growing for nine months in the womb and making the pressurized journey down the birth canal to explode into the light of a sin filled world. To me it is incomprehensible! Yet, I know it to be true. I also know that it was not just love for us, but love for His Father, that drove Jesus to choose obedience to that vulnerable birth and obedience to an even more vulnerable cross. It is this mentality that needs to drive us as we immerse ourselves in the festivities of the Christmas season.

Pixabay

Pixabay

We all know how easy it is to get caught up in the busyness of this season. There’s shopping and decorating, baking and cleaning, wrapping and gathering, all good things, but so often as we focus on getting our to do list checked off, we lose sight of the true meaning of this holiday. I know I do. I can easily become overwhelmed with all of the things I need to get done and fret that I don’t have more time to do them. We also, all know that fretting does not lead to peace and isn’t peace, part of what makes this season so beautiful? At least it should. So, just how can we keep the true meaning part of our focus? Here are several ideas.

Keep Jesus Close - As you shop, wrap, bake and decorate meditate on Him. Remind yourself of His birth and remember that He is with you wherever you go. You might think it is silly, but I often imagine Jesus sitting next to me in the car or standing next to me as I wash dishes. Hey, He endowed all of us with an imagination, so I have no shame in using it. Envisioning Him as a person with me, helps me to focus on the fact that He really is there even though I cannot physically see Him. It helps me to remember why I love Christmas, because it is all about Him.

Listen to Music - There is nothing better, in my mind, to help me get in the true Christmas spirit, than listening to Christmas music. It doesn’t just have to be traditional carols like The First Noel, It Came Upon a Midnight Clear, or Oh Holy Night, but songs that really speak to the message of why we celebrate this season bring the truth back into focus. It is also good to listen to different versions of these Christ-focused carols. For instance my husband and I both agree that Josh Groban’s version of O Holy Night sings as if he was actually there, feeling the peace and beauty of the birth of Jesus. On the other hand, What Child is This, as portrayed by Andrea Bocelli and Mary J. Blige is the most amazing and powerful version of this song I have ever heard. The culmination of their voices is almost angelic as they usher us into the powerful glory of our Lord’s vulnerability.

Having music playing while you are in the car going to the mall, or to a party, or when you are wrapping presents or baking cookies can help to keep your mind in a state of peace and joy throughout the season, even if circumstances around you are difficult.

Watch Christmas Movies - I know a lot of people don’t like to watch the same movies over and over. My husband is one of them, but he tolerates my love for seeing these classic movies every year and occasionally watches them with me. There are fun movies like White Christmas and Jingle All the Way, but there are also movies with a message that transcends this particular holiday. Take for instance A Christmas Carol. A book originally written by Charles Dickens, it was first made into a movie in 1910. Hollywood has come a long way since then, but my two favorite versions are the 1984 version with George C. Scott and the 1992 version with the Muppets. I just finished watching the George C. Scott version the other day and these two scenes really stood out to me.

Obviously, Marely is miserable and it is his knowledge that everything he did in life was meaningless. “….mankind was my business….” Wow! If that doesn’t remind us to take a look at our priorities, I don’t know what will.

I love this scene of transformation. Scrooge was a changed man. Oh, that we would be so changed by the spirit of our Lord Jesus Christ who dwells within us and gives us the ability to be new, each and every day!

Do Something to Serve - I know this seems a bit counter intuitive, when we are so busy, why do something that makes us even busier? The point is to love and worship Jesus by showing love to others. It might be something as simple as baking cookies for your co-workers or leaving a card for your mail carrier, thanking him/her for her hard work. It can be something more complex like visiting shut ins or serving at your local soup kitchen. Often these places are inundated at the holidays, because people are thinking about serving others. Why not schedule your service for February or March, when many of these people are forgotten?

Set Up Some Sort of Memorial - This might be your nativity. Letting your children be involved in getting the pieces out and setting them up helps them to remember Christmas is about Jesus. If you don’t have a nativity and don’t want to make that purchase, decorate a jar with Christmas colors. Every day have you and your family members write down on small slips of paper things they love about Christmas, the Christmas story or things they are thankful for, then on Christmas eve or Christmas morning go through your jar, reading these things out loud. You could then spend a few minutes in prayer, praising and thanking Jesus for all He has done for you.

However you celebrate Christmas and no matter how busy you are, I hope that you will take the time, even if only for a few moments to really think about what the reason for this season really is.

Have a great day!

Three Little Commands - Pray without Ceasing

When we think about our lives how many things do you do without ceasing? Well, I can come up with a few like dishes, laundry and.....Okay, okay, so maybe they aren't constant, but it sure seems that way sometimes. The things that we do without ceasing have more to do with those functions of our bodies that we call involuntary....we do them without thinking. Breathing, swallowing, blinking, these are all things we don't really think about. Yes, our brain does think about them, but we don't consciously choose to breathe, unless we are taking a birthing class or meditating. Ha, ha. Our brain controls all of those cycles and tasks that our body performs that we never give a thought to. Good thing! If I had to think about making my digestive system turn food into all its usable and unusable components, I would probably just give up.

When Paul tells the believers at the church of Thessalonica to "...pray without ceasing..." what exactly does he mean? Is he saying that we should pray like we do our laundry and dishes....when the piles get so high they have to be done or we will be wearing the same pair of underwear again, or we will be eating without plates and silverware? In all honesty that is the way my life is. I only do laundry when we are starting to run out of the essentials and the dishes not only take up the space in the dishwasher and drying rack, but in the sink and on the counter next to the sink! 

Pixabay

Pixabay

Even more unfortunate, that is how my prayer life is. I put it off and put it off until I am driven to my knees by forces beyond my control. When life piles it on higher and higher until there is  no more avoiding it, the only option left is prayer.

I know I feel better when my laundry is done and my dishes are all in their homes in the cupboards rather than in messy piles around the sink (or even the whole kitchen when it is really bad). I feel like I have accomplished something and have a sense of peace that those things aren't hanging over my head, waiting to be attended to. When my home is messy, cluttered and chaotic, my life feels that way as well. So why is it, so often, things get to that point? Because life happens!

The same is true of our prayer lives. When I am in sync with God and I am praying in His spirit, I feel at peace. Life can be chaotic around me, but I am one and at rest with HIm. One of my favorite authors of the past is Oswald Chambers. His devotional My Utmost for His Highest is a daily read for me and has been since my husband gave me the book in 2007. I'd like to share a few things from one of His devotionals. 

Prayer does not equip us for the greater works—-prayer is the greater work.
— Oswald Chambers - My Utmost for His Highest - October 17th

We live in a world that is work oriented. Not only do we work at work, we work at home and we work at play. All that work is good. Having a job helps pay the bills. Doing the laundry gives us fresh clothes to wear. Being part of a health club or a sports team gives us benefits socially and physically. However, as a Christ follower, my greatest work is prayer. 

Ever since I accepted Christ as my Savior at the age of twelve I have acknowledge this idea in the back of my head, but it didn't really become a central part of my life until I became an adult and then became a parent of adult children. Prayer is the force that moves mountains. I cannot change a person's heart, but God can. I cannot heal a sick child, but God can. I cannot direct this country, but God can. He is in control. I won't go into why God says yes or why He says no, but it comes down to trust. 

When I became a grandparent a little over six years ago, I was able to revisit the idea of child like faith. As I watched my grandson grow and learn and experience life I realized how very much God desires we come to Him as a little child; full of wonder, curiosity, and trust. My grandson never wondered where I was. He always knew I was there. He didn't wonder if I would pick him up when he cried, he just knew I would. 

We must go to God as His child, because only a child gets his prayers answered; a ‘wise’ man does not.
— Oswald Chambers - My Utmost for His Highest - October 17th

A little child has a degree of trust that far exceeds anything we can understand, that is, until that trust is broken. The little child has an amazing capacity to believe. Just think about children and Santa Clause. Unless someone explains that Santa is merely a tale based on the historical figure of Saint Nicolas a child will enjoy the belief that Santa is a very real and magical being. He will also believe that Santa is good and will bring him gifts on Christmas morning.

Pixabay

Pixabay

That is what coming to God in prayer should be like. We should come to Him, regularly, consistently and with anticipation of what He will do. He may not answer our prayers in the fashion that we deem best, but we can choose, like that little child, to trust Him, because we know that He is good. Goodness is a part of His character and He cannot be otherwise.

Praise the Lord! Oh give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; For His lovingkindness is everlasting.
— Psalm 106:1 (NASB)

How do we pray without ceasing? Just like we breath. Without a thought. When the day is sunny and the sky is blue, I breath a prayer of joy. When I am tired and need His strength, I breath a prayer of petition. When I am sad, or scared, I breath a prayer of scripture, knowing that His word brings peace and hope. When life is so overwhelming I feel as though I cannot go on, I only breath and let Him do the rest.