Tag Archives: Christmas

Christmas Joy

Christmas JoyDo you remember being a child and anxiously counting down the days until Christmas?  Maybe on an advent calendar or maybe a paper chain that you made?  Do you remember singing Christmas carols without a care as to how you sounded and dancing around the house laughing?  Do you remember being so excited on Christmas Eve night that you could barely sleep?  And waking before the sun to see if Santa had come?

As children, it seems that the joy of Christmas is impossible to miss.  Without having to worry about running errands and getting things done around the house, children can focus purely on the excitement of the season.  Even if part of that excitement is directed towards the coming of Santa, they still know and experience the incredible joy of the Christmas season.

As we get older, sometimes that excitement can begin to fade.  Perhaps because our schedules have become so busy we don’t have time to stop and focus on the joy.  Perhaps because we have experienced pain and sorrow and the Christmas season makes us feel sad or alone in suffering.  Perhaps it is simply that we feel we have other, more important things going on.

Whatever the reason, as Christians we are called to find that joy again and to share it with all those we meet.  Despite our hectic schedules, despite the suffering we may be experiencing, despite the things we have going on in our lives, there is always time to find the joy.

Mary and Joseph did not face an easy road in preparing for that first Christmas or in the years that followed.  Yet, despite it all, they found joy.  In fact, the whole Christmas story is filled with examples of joy.

Mary, after learning the news that she would be the mother of Christ, goes to visit Elizabeth.  Elizabeth greets her with joy.  John the Baptist, still in his mother’s womb, leaps for joy!  And Mary, despite all that was going on in her life, since learning this news, exclaims with great joy, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior” (Luke 1:46-47).

At the birth of Christ, the angel of the Lord appears to the shepherds saying “Be not afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which will come to all the people; for to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” (Luke 2:10-11).

When the wise men, on their search to see this new King, saw the star in the sky,they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy” (Matthew 2:10).

The Christmas story is filled with joy, not because there was a complete lack of stress, pain, and suffering.  They did not experience the joy because they had nothing else to worry about or because they had never experienced sadness.  They had problems much like we all do today.  But they were able to recognize that something bigger was happening.

Something bigger than the fear of a young, unmarried girl being found pregnant. Something bigger than the stress of traveling such a long distance while nine months pregnant.  Something bigger than the worry of having to search for a place to stay and eventually finding only a stable to give birth.

That something was the long awaited Messiah!  Jesus Christ, the Son of God!  And joy that they felt that first Christmas, the joy that we experienced so freely as children, that joy is still there calling to us in the midst of this holiday season.

Being filled with the joy of Christ’s birth doesn’t mean all problems will magically melt away.  It doesn’t mean the gifts will wrap themselves and there will be nothing else on the to-do list.  But it does mean that in spite of whatever else we may be dealing with, God is with us!  Emmanuel!  And that wondrous and amazing reality, that God sent His Son to us as a tiny babe to save us all and resides within the heart and soul of each and every one of us?  That is something bigger than all the stuff we have going on.  That is something to truly fill us with joy.

Merry Christmas to you all!  May it be a season filled with holiness, family, friends, and joy.

An Advent Poem

I wrote this poem for Advent a few years back and wanted to share it again as we start another Advent season.

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roses near running waters

Waiting

Waiting with joy
With hope
With great anticipation.

Waiting for peace.
Waiting for Love
Waiting for Joy.

We wait

For loved ones to come home.
For wars to end.
For peace on earth.
For romance.
For love.
For new life.

We wait.

To be together.
To laugh together
To cry together
To remember the past
To look forward to the future
To celebrate.

We Wait.

To celebrate our blessings
Our togetherness
Our hopes
Our dreams.

To celebrate a Baby.
A Baby born in Bethlehem
Many years ago.

A beautiful little Baby
So small
So precious
So innocent
So glorious.

A Baby to warm our hearts
To show us the way
To bring us peace
And love
And joy.

A Baby to bring us everlasting life.

Waiting with joy
To celebrate the Baby
The precious Baby Jesus
The very Son of God.

We wait.

Waiting with hope
With great anticipation

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The Wonder of Christmas

188718454_origBy now we are so familiar with the Christmas story that at times we may take it for granted.  We hear the story, we sing the songs, we pray together, and we are filled with joy and excitement!  As well we should be!  The joy, the anticipation that we feel is all brought on by the most wondrous gift.  Sometimes we lose that wonder.

The wonder that our God humbled Himself and became man for our sake.

The wonder that He came to us as a tiny baby, born of the Virgin Mary in a stable.

The wonder that this tiny little babe would be the Savior for all of us.  Would wipe away sin and death.  Would lead us to eternal life.

We should be filled with wonder and awe of this miracle!  We have heard the story countless times.  Each time we hear it, each time we read it, each time we raise our voices in songs of praise for the Son of God born in Bethlehem, let us pray that our hearts become like that of a child.  Fully open to the wonder of this glorious day!

Mary and Joseph, the shepherds, the kings, they had been told that something wonderful was going to happen.  The believed fully and without reservation.  And when the precious Baby Jesus was born, there was great rejoicing!

“And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest,and on earth peace among men with whom he is pleased.” (Luke 2:13-14)

When the angel appeared to the shepherds in the field that night, they went straight to Bethlehem, filled with the wonder of what they had been told.  They went to the Christ Child and after seeing Him lying in the manger, “the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.” (Luke 2:20)

And when the kings saw the star in the sky, “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 treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh.” (Matthew 2:10-11)  They were filled with the wonder of it all.  They knew this was the Lord and didn’t think twice before bowing down in worship to the tiny Christ Child.

We may know the story well, but that should only give us more reason to rejoice!  For we know that this baby born so long ago has saved us from sin and death.  We know the immense mercy and love of God that was shown to us through Jesus Christ.  As we approach this wonderful day, I pray that along with the excitement, the joy, the hope, and the peace of Christmas, our hearts may be opened anew to the wonder of it all.  The wonder of Christmas.

Advent: Calm in the Chaos

nativity-447767_640Advent.  A time of waiting and preparation, both for the celebration of the birth of our Savior, and for His glorious return.  Sometimes we might feel as though there is too much going on in our lives to truly focus on the Advent season.  But the season of Advent can be celebrated in our hearts in times of quiet prayer and pondering as well as in the midst of hectic preparations.

In the time leading up to the birth of our Lord, Mary and Joseph had a lot going on. The angel Gabriel comes and delivers a most wonderful message to the Blessed Mother and she joyfully accepts the will of the Father, even without knowing exactly what may be involved.  Then an angel of the Lord appears to Joseph to assure him that what Mary said was true.  He, too, accepts the will of the Father and takes Mary into his home.  Suddenly their lives were forever changed.  They had been two seemingly ordinary people preparing to be married.  And now they were married and expecting a child.  Not just any child, but the Son of God! The child they were preparing to welcome into the world would “save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21).

In what I can only imagine was a whirlwind of wonder and joy at the events that were transpiring I am sure that there were also some hectic moments.  Mary went to visit Elizabeth for several months.  They had the usual preparations for expecting a baby.  And rather than staying close to home while waiting for the Christ Child to be born, they had to go and journey to Bethlehem for the census.  Can you imagine being in Mary’s position?  Leaving family and friends and the comfort of the home you have likely been preparing for months for the arrival of a baby, to travel while quite pregnant would be stressful for most of us.  And what about Joseph?  He loved Mary dearly and I am sure he was concerned for his new bride with all the commotion going on.  I can imagine him frantically trying to find a place for them to rest before finding the stable.  I think it is fair to say that most of us would be overwhelmed by it all.

Was Mary overwhelmed?  Were Mary and Joseph stressed out and frantic as their plans kept changing?  Mary and Joseph were people just like you and me.  They had plenty on their plates!  And in their time of waiting, they couldn’t constantly sit back in quiet solitude and contemplate the events that were going to transpire.  They had to continue on in their preparations, deal with changing plans and forge ahead with their lives.  They couldn’t escape the whirlwind of life.

What they could do was make time for the Lord in the midst of it all.  They could trust in His Almighty plan for them, even when things seemed chaotic and confusing.  They could lean on His promises and ponder in their hearts the glorious mystery they had been called to live out.  They could proclaim His goodness even if it didn’t all make sense to them right away.

As we make our way through this Advent season we journey in our hearts alongside Mary and Joseph.  The world around us is hectic.  When everywhere we turn there is commotion and chaos, we can still find the peace of Advent within us.   While we wait for Christmas to come there are things to be done!  Gifts to wrap, cookies to bake, decorations to put up, family get-togethers to plan and attend.  Even if we manage to avoid the frenzied pace that can accompany the Christmas season, what then? After Christmas we will still be waiting for Christ’s glorious return.  Do we truly expect to avoid all stress, all chaos, all commotion for the rest of our lives?

That holy night in Bethlehem when Christ our King was born was truly glorious.  But the journey wasn’t over.  And it wasn’t always calm and peaceful.  Imagine the commotion and uncertainty as they fled to Egypt in the middle of the night to save the Baby Jesus.  And imagine the frantic search for the Child Jesus for three days before finding Him in the temple.  Even with the Son of God living there with them, I am sure that Mary and Joseph had their share of stressful and hectic moments.  We all do!

Try as we might, the Christmas season may not be quiet and peaceful at every moment for us.  We may not avoid all the chaos and commotion in this season or in the months and years to follow.  Even so, we can still find peace.  Emmanuel!  God is with us!  Even in the hectic moments, He is there.  And those moments will seem a little less hectic if we strive to remember that.   When we feel the frantic pressure of waiting in long lines to purchase gifts we can say a prayer of thanks for the loved ones in our lives.  When we find ourselves stuck in an endless traffic jam we can take advantage of the extra time and say a few prayers while we wait.  When life is swirling around us and we seem to find confusion every way we turn, we can trust that God is there beside us even when we can’t see the way ahead.

So this Advent season, if despite your efforts to remain calm and peaceful you find yourself stuck in the midst of the commotion, look to Mary and Joseph.  They show us how to follow the Lord and trust in His ways while still living out our daily lives, crazy though they may be.  Things may get hectic, plans may change, but God remains with us.  He is there in the calm.  He is there in the chaos.  God is with us!  Emmanuel!

Christmas Music Already?

ball-2037__180Every year it seems Christmas creeps earlier and earlier.  And for the past several years, I would bemoan the early enticement of sales and decorated trees.  I refused to listen to the music until Santa rolled through the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade.  For me, that was the official start of the holiday season, followed shortly thereafter by the start of Advent at which point we would really get into the Christmas spirit.

But this year, when almost a full week ago now I heard a local radio station had already switched to playing continuous Christmas music, I didn’t change the channel.  In fact, I didn’t even reach for the dial.  I just let it play.

Why the change?  Maybe seeing the Christmas displays in all the stores builds the excitement.  Maybe it’s the six inches of snow that has covered the ground and the subzero temperatures forcing us to break out the winter clothing, extra blankets, and delicious hot cocoa (not to mention snow shovels) earlier than usual.   Maybe it really is that Christmas music that did me in.

I think the biggest reason is that my heart is ready for Christmas.  More than  that, it needs Christmas.  Truly, we all need Christmas.  Sure the early start to the season is brought on largely by the materialistic side of Christmas.  But whatever the underlying motive, is there ever such a thing as too much Christmas spirit?  That spirit of joy, excitement, and hope!  The spirit of giving, of sharing, of love.  Is it ever possible to get excited about the celebration of the birth of our Lord too early?

I don’t think so.

Even as we begin the celebration of Advent in a few weeks, I believe that our time of waiting does not have to be a somber one.  It should be filled with excitement!  With hope and joy and love.   We are not waiting in darkness, but in the light!  We know what it is we are waiting to celebrate.  We know that God came to us that night in Bethlehem in the most precious and wondrous way as the baby Jesus.  And we know that He will come again.

I don’t have Christmas decorations up yet.  I haven’t started watching my favorite Christmas movies or baking cookies.  But I have enjoyed looking at Christmas decorations, shopping for loved ones, and, yes, listening to Christmas music (and even singing along!)  There’s something about Christmas music that instantly cheers you up.  The lyrics tell stories of love, of family, of the Lord.  Even the goofy songs make you smile when you hear them.  Hearing my favorite Christmas songs again reminds me of the immense joy that fills the Christmas season.  And why should that joy be confined to only one month?

Despite the fact that Christmas is still over a month away, I will confess that I am in the Christmas spirit.  Shouldn’t we all be?  The Christmas spirit is one that we should be carrying in our hearts year round.  Even if we wait to outwardly celebrate the Christmas season, that spirit of love, happiness, and hope should be with us no matter what the season.   So even though it is early, I think we all need a little Christmas.  And I am going to let that joyous Christmas music continue to play.

Christmas Traditions

Sanctuary at the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist

When my sisters and I were all very young we would always attend Mass on Christmas Day.    Once we were old enough to stay awake through Christmas Eve Mass, my parents began a tradition of going to the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist in downtown Cleveland.  It was almost an hour drive from our home and we had to get there early in order to find enough space for all six of us to sit together.  We would get dressed up in our Christmas dresses and Dad would drive through the snowy weather downtown.  The hour ride seemed like nothing as we passed the time by singing Christmas carols together the whole way.

It didn’t matter how early we intended on leaving, we always managed to get there around 9:30, a half hour before Mass began, which meant we were seated in the back half of the church.  But we didn’t mind.  The choir would already be singing beautiful Christmas music that rang through the Cathedral as we prayed before Mass. 

There was nothing wrong with our home church, in fact it was absolutely beautiful!  But being in the gorgeous cathedral with the organ, trumpets, and choir sounding like the angels from the heavens themselves…it truly made an impression on my sisters and I and reminded us all the more that this was no ordinary day.  This was the celebration of the birth of our Savior!

Nativity Stained Glass window at the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist

The Mass was always reverent and inspiring.  Our home church was very small and so being surrounded by so many hundreds of people as we all worshiped together was something special and unique.   After Mass, we would walk around the Cathedral before beginning our drive home.  We would walk silently while admiring the stained glass windows, the beautiful statues, and the serene nativity scene.  When we were through, we would bundle up and head back to the car for the ride home, singing carols once again until one by one each of us girls fell asleep.

My family moved to Georgia for my father’s job during my first year at college and that specific tradition ended.  Going to Mass with my parents and my sisters is always wonderful and I treasure the times were are together and able to attend Mass at their church or ours. 

Altar at St. Patrick’s Catholic Church

This year since my family would not be in town until after Christmas and  we would be seeing my husband’s family on Christmas Day, my husband and I decided to go to Mass on Christmas Eve at our church, St. Patrick’s Catholic Church or “St. Pat’s” as it is fondly called.  It is the church my husband grew up in, the church we both belonged to when we met, the church we were married in, and the church we belong to now.  Our very first Christmas together my family had come in for the holiday and we all went to Mass at our church on Christmas Eve.  This was the first year since then that my husband and I were in town for Christmas and able to attend Christmas Eve Mass there once again.  The church was decorated so lovely.   The music was truly reverent and  Father’s sermon was wonderful as always.  The Mass was just beautiful. 

St. Patrick Catholic Church

After Communion we all sat down.  The lights in the church went dark until the only light that remained was from flickering candles and the glowing lanterns in front of each stained glass window lining the church.  Then the choir began to sing “Silent Night.”  It was so soft, so beautiful, so holy, that I could not help the tears from forming.  Father had spoken in his homily about the wonder of Emmanuel – God is with us!  As the church joined in sung prayer to the Lord, I felt God’s presence so strongly.  I imagined the angels singing with us as we lifted our voices in sung prayer to the precious Baby Jesus.  My husband held my hand as we sat in the darkness.  I sang as tears filled my eyes as I prayed and thanked the Lord for the wonders He has given us. It was a beautiful moment filled with the peace of knowing that God is indeed with us.

As little girls, my sisters and I felt that our parents had started a tradition of going to the Cathedral.  But the tradition itself went so much further.  By going to the Cathedral, my parents had instilled in us a deep reverence for this holy day of Christmas.  Of putting the Lord first and joining together in worship and praise for the Baby Jesus.  Of taking time to pray and to recognize the significance of such a glorious day.

We may not know what the future holds. We may not know what church we will be able to attend with our children one day for Christmas Mass.  But as I sat praying in the silence of St. Pat’s once “Silent Night” had ended, I knew the tradition still lived on and would continue to live on through our own family and our own children.  Whether we attend Mass on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, at St. Pat’s, in Georgia, or anywhere else, the tradition will live on. It is a tradition of faith, holiness, and reverence.  Not just at Christmas, but the whole year through.  The tradition is not being in a specific building, but of remembering that no matter where we are, God is with us!  Emmanuel!

The Newborn King

Gerard van Honthorst Adoration of the Shepherd...The birth of Christ is truly an awesome and miraculous mystery.  The fact that God would choose to send His Son into the world as a baby is beautiful beyond comprehension.   I suspect that if any of us had to devise the plan for the Savior of the world to come to earth, not a one among us would choose a baby born in a manger to a young woman and her carpenter husband.  A baby who would grow up just like the other babies; learning to walk, talk, and pray.  It’s all so ordinary.

God could have sent our King as a mighty man adorned with gold, jewels, and riches beyond compare as he led an army to save us.  But a man leading an army to save the people would inevitably be fighting against someone else.  God does not want us to fight each other.  He came to conquer death, to fight the battle against the devil for our souls.  He did not come to spark a war among men, but to vanquish death and offer us a way to true and everlasting peace.  He sent Jesus to save us from our sins and to show us true love, peace, and joy.

God, in His infinite love and wisdom, knew exactly what He was doing.  A beautiful, innocent, precious baby was just the Savior we needed.  Someone who would grow up fully human.  Who would know our fears, our doubts, our struggles.  Someone who would see our sins and show us the way in the most loving and humble way imaginable.  Someone who would show us just how deep the Father’s love is for us. 

Christ's Birth

Christ’s Birth (Photo credit: Laura B. Dahl)

The precious baby Jesus, swaddled in the manger, is a King indeed.  He may not have been born in a mighty palace with an abundance of warm blankets, but He was born under a blanket of heavenly stars leading the way for those who came to worship.  He may not have had royals guards announcing His birth to all the lands, but he had a multitude of heavenly angels instead!  Angels who appeared to simple shepherds who hurried to see the newborn King and to share the good news with all.

Christmas is almost upon us.  And as we celebrate the birth of our loving King of Kings with family and friends, let us all take a moment in the hustle and bustle to thank our Father for the greatest gift of all.  May our hearts be filled with the wonder, joy, and love that was brought into the world by a tiny baby born in Bethlehem years ago.  Glory to the newborn King!