Have A Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas everyone. Christmas is Jesus, and I encourage you to intentionally make plans to include Jesus in your celebration this year. How can you do that? You may want to consider some things we have done in the past:

  • Light an advent wreath. Once a week (or now you may need to light two candles during one week to catch up), you can light a four-candle wreath with a fifth candle in the center. Though in liturgical churches, the four candles (3 are usually purple) typically represent hope (prophecy), love, joy (this candle is usually rose colored), and peace, you can get creative and allow them to represent a number of things (prophecy, Bethlehem, shepherds, angels, or various aspects of the gospel).The center candle is the Christ candle and can be lit on Christmas morning. You can have family devotions around the advent wreath once a week and light the candle and read appropriate scripture. Google Advent Wreath and come up with some ideas.
  • Sing! Music is such a big part of the Christmas season. Celebrating the birth of Christ through Christian, Christmas music in your home is a great way to keep Christ at the center of the holiday. Sing as a family during family devotions. If you’re not as musically inclined, play Christmas CD’s and have your family sing along.
  • Serve – One of the great ways to celebrate Christmas is to serve others during the season. You can serve by visiting the elderly, ringing the Salvation Army bell as a family, take a meal to a needy family, give gifts to a needy family, or simply helping someone who needs help. Last year on Christmas Day, my family joined some good friends and went caroling at the Cancer Treatment Center. I will always think of it as a highlight of the season. When our children were young, we once read a book called “The Last Straw” and used it as a tool to encourage our children to do acts of service for one another. They would draw names each week and do acts of service for the person they drew. Every time a secret service was performed (making a bed, doing a chore, helping in a secret way, etc.), the one doing the serving would add a piece of straw to the manger. The idea was to have a soft bed ready for Jesus on Christmas morning by doing many acts of service for one another.
  • Worship – Christmas is about Jesus, so we should make sure we spend time worshipping with our church family and with our individual family. If you do not have family devotions on a regular basis, this Christmas season would be a good time to get started.
  • Movies – Watch some Christmas movies. Rent or buy the Nativity and watch it together as a family.
  • Missions – Christmas is also about missions. During December, we always receive an offering for international missions in our church. Giving to our missions offering is a great way to remember this season is about Jesus and His mission in the world. Whether your church receives an offering or not, why not include a special gift to missions as a gift to Jesus?
  • Games – We play games during the holidays and enjoy being together. A family who plays together stays together.

 Christmas is such a fun season. Hopefully this year we will also remember it is Christ’s birthday. What will you do to celebrate Jesus this year? Share your ideas in the comments section below.

Happy Hanukkah

Hanukkah ends tomorrow. I’m not Jewish, but as a Christian, Jewish holidays have significance for me. At first thought, Hanukkah may have less significance than other Jewish holidays, but after some contemplation, maybe its implication for my faith increases. Hanukkah, or the Festival of Lights, is a celebration of the cleansing of the Jewish temple. The Jewish people lost their independence in 586 B.C. when they were taken captive by the Babylonians. Though their subservience changed throughout the following years, they continued to be under another nations’ rule until Jerusalem fell in 70 A. D., and the Jewish nation ceased to exist. They became a nation once again on May 14, 1948 when the United Nations recognized Israel’s sovereignty. Even though the Jews were controlled by other countries after the exiles returned to Israel, their practices were often respected, but in 167 B.C., Antiochus Epiphanies, of the Seleucid Empire, erected a statue to Zeus in the Jewish temple and sacrificed a pig on the altar. A Jewish priest, named Mattathias, and his five sons let a revolt against Antiochus and led Israel into a period of peace. In 165 B.C. the temple was restored to the Jewish people, it was cleansed, and rededicated to God. Though the Jews really had not won their complete independence, they were able to remain fairly unmolested until the Roman Empire asserted their control and authority over Israel. Hanukkah is a celebration of the cleansing of the temple in 165 B.C., and in a sense is a celebration of Jewish independence and freedom. It is not an Old Testament festival, such as Passover, but rather it is a celebration of an event in Jewish history. It is called the “Festival of Lights” because there is a story connected to this cleansing that says when the priest went to light the menorah, he only had enough oil to last for a day. The story goes that the candles burned for eight days, therefore the festival is now celebrated for eight days.

 Here’s the implication of Hanukkah for me, as a Christian.  It is interesting that Hanukkah is celebrated at the beginning of the Christmas season. While the brief remission of domination for the Hebrew people is important to me, the greater importance is the freedom from tyranny and domination of sin offered through Christ’s redemption of humanity. The “Festival of Lights” is strategically placed around the beginning of December, and I can connect it to celebrating the real light Who came into the world, Jesus Christ. The Apostle John wrote of Christ, the Light, in the opening words to his gospel: “In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men. The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it. There came a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness, to testify about the Light, so that all might believe through him. He was not the Light, but he came to testify about the Light. There was the true Light which, coming into the world, enlightens every man.”

 To my Jewish friends: Happy Hanukkah. For Christians around the world, we have a wonderful reason to celebrate as well. The greatest Light, Jesus Christ, has come into the world offering hope and forgiveness to mankind.