“She will bring forth a son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for he will save His people from their sins.” Matthew 12:21
Hope to the world began in Bethlehem in a small cave that served as a stable. The Cave is under the oldest church in the world, the Church of the Nativity. Many come to see the cave and the star which marks the birthplace.
A few years ago I was given the opportunity to visit the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. As I descended in the dark narrow stairs which led us into the small stable, I felt a glorious hope from God! As I knelt to touch the star I became overwhelmed with the emotions because the birth of Jesus was the divine will of God to save his people from their sins! To save me from my sins! That first Christmas night, Jesus became personal in Bethlehem! “The word became flesh, and and dwelt among us” ( John 1:14). In Jesus’ birth, God declares the hope of His presence. His presence became flesh, with us. What a divine moment.
The last verse of O Little Town of Bethlehem reads, “O holy child of Bethlehem, descend to us, we pray! Cast out our sins and enter in, be born in us today. We hear the Christmas angels, the great tidings tell; O come to us, abide with us, Our Lord Emmanuel!”
May that holy night of our dear Savior’s birth call you into a personal relationship with him, in living a Holy life before God, seeking quietness and silent nights, intimate moments, and may your soul feel His worth.
Hope is here!
What a wonderful and glorious hope we have because God offers us the gift of living hope to all who seek it!
This advent season has ended now. So, I ask, is Christ real to you?
Has He taken residence in your life?
Let Him be born in your heart today.
Diane Andrews lives in northern Montana near the Canadian border in a reservation town called Wolf Point. She was saved and discipled by mentors in Young Life, a ministry to high school students across America. She became a pastor’s wife and is a down-to-earth speaker on the topics of the women of the Bible and how to find Jesus in your real life. Diane is the founder and director of R&R Retreats. Though Diane is severely dyslexic, she is the author of My Step Journal published by Captured Books.
Reprinted by permission from her December 19, 2019 blog, Coffee with Kathy.
This message is bathed in hope for the parent who has not heard from her kids, who might not see them at Christmas.
I want you to know it won’t always be this way.
“And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while,
will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.” 1 Peter 5:10
My late husband, Roger, was fond of saying, “Let’s make the kind of memories that keep the kids coming back home – even when they’re grown.”
Oh! How I loved Roger’s enthusiasm for special calendar dates – particularly Christmastime and All Things Winter.
To commemorate the First Snow, he and I wrapped a “snow gift” for each of the girls. For gift-wrapping, he used the funny papers.
He was thrilled at the arrival of egg nog in the dairy section – he went nuts with the stuff, pouring it into his morning coffee and grabbing enough cartons to store in the freezer “to get through the winter months”, he would say.
For years, we bundled the girls and searched tree farms for just the right tree to grace our Colorado home.
Every Christmas Eve, he read from Luke’s account of the birth of Christ; when our daughters became readers, they read it out loud to the family.
We had an advent calendar.
He sang the carols, often adding verses he made up on the fly.
He insisted on driving us around the neighborhood to look at the festive light displays.
He was big on memories and minimal on material things.
So many rich traditions, steeped in the wonder of raising our girls; the sweet simplicity of being a family together.
Four months shy of Christmas 2008, Roger died.
The girls were 18 and 15.
A black shadow passed over our little snow globe of a family.
What if they don’t come home?
For three years of emotional drought, they didn’t.
It was dreadful for me, the surviving parent.
A mom who is unsure of her child’s safety and well-being is a pile of misery, and that’s what I was during those lean years.
I won’t go into the whys and the pain of those whys. Grief is weird. A sudden loss can unravel a lifetime and reorder it into something scary, chaotic, unknown.
We all respond in different ways. My daughters turned from me, not in open rejection or hostility, but in the throes of sudden, unexpected loss.
What if they don’t come home?
Christmas during those years was the stark reality of an empty chair, a huge hole he once filled with his larger-than-life-laughter. The emptiness was intensified by my fractured family.
And that star? The one shining in the east? That star was shrouded in a fog of grief and worry; I couldn’t see it through the haze and maze of guilt, fear, anger.
All I could feel was the dull ache of my heart, thumping along in spite of wanting to disappear, to fold up inside my pain.
I’d become an exile to my husband’s family, through a sad myriad of misunderstandings.
Being an outsider to in-laws, that’s pretty hard to deal with. Being an outsider to your own kids – that’s impossible to endure.
Then, we had a series of fun celebrations together. Endearment was restored like a chain of Christmas lights getting the dud bulbs replaced so that the whole string twinkles, unbroken.
Covid 19 has crimped the style of families everywhere. For our safety, holiday celebrations are limited, shops, even grocery stores, and home celebrations closed down. We are given tips on how to keep children safe and parents informed during 2021.
During Thanksgiving, people posted humble but joyful pictures of their small feasts for two, three, and even singular plates on social media. They called it the war of light and loveliness on the darkness of this holiday season. Still, when I called my own mother to tell her that I had been exposed to the disease at work and could not risk her health, she wept. She and I both sat alone with our thoughts this Thanksgiving, like many others.
My adult girls remember their dad’s corny jokes. They ask about his favorite movies, then they watch them. But, there are many episodes of tragic family attitudes and events in our history, and probably in yours, that haunt our current decisions and lives. Parents are blamed for decisions they didn’t have the wherewithal to tackle; they should have been wiser. Children are not excused because they were trained up better than that.
Helplessly, we grapple for promises of better days from the only One who can provide these to us.
The Lord has promised to restore what the locust has eaten.
I will restore to you the years that the swarming locust has eaten, the hopper, the destroyer, and the cutter, my great army, which I sent among you. “You shall eat in plenty and be satisfied, and praise the name of the Lord your God, who has dealt wondrously with you. And my people shall never again be put to shame.
Does this promise mean today, tomorrow, or next year? I believe He does restore our souls in mysterious ways, and we can depend on that, but it doesn’t always look the way we want it to look. And, this is why our faith is often called a “walk of faith” “traveling in darkness” “running the race” because we don’t bear our weights in vain. They make us stronger.
We honor Roger’s memory in small, sweet ways. We laugh a lot, we cry some, we laugh some more.
His name is a regular part of our conversation.
Before, we avoided saying it for fear our brittle voices would break and scatter on the floor.
We can now dream of the future and we know the strength of forgiveness, the binding up of wounds.
My daughters call regularly to check in on me; my oldest planned a June wedding and made it happen even in the pandemic, and it was a landmark memory I will always cherish.
It’s not a Hallmark movie; there are still some things quietly coming to the light to be dealt with as we continue forward.
Cars break down, we have health scares, there are often misunderstandings to be ironed out. The point is, we’re doing life together again – as an extended family finds ways to do so.
This year, I celebrate the many times the kids and I have been together. It has been a hard year once again, but I am stronger and more creative than I once was. They will come home for Christmas another time.
And that star? The one shining in the east? That star is a glowing reminder of God’s presence, His longing to be in a relationship with us. He traveled from His heavenly home and spiritual body to become human and to wander in a strange, unwelcoming place. It meant everything for Him to do that.
“It’s a dark night, sang the kettle, and the rotten leaves are lying by the way; and, above, all is mist and darkness, and, below, all is mire and clay.”
-The Cricket on the Hearth, Charles Dickens
I have a memory so richly steeped in the broth of gratitude, I can summon it anytime to fortify myself; it’s like opening a thermos of soup on the coldest day.
The memory involves a bit of confetti, a radio studio, and a Great Dane.
One dreary day beneath the canvas of a gray sky, I scooted my wheels into a parking space at the local grocery store. With my mind on autopilot, I found a cart and headed for the entrance. Then, a passing car sprayed my feet with mud and grit.
As my gaze drifted toward my soggy shoes, a little annoyed with the puddles and a little mad at the driver, something caught my eye. Bending down for closer inspection, I was rewarded to see a tiny metallic rocking horse. It was pink and gleaming and irresistible; a speck of color; an enchanting thing.
At that time I was the host of a radio show on WTMV-Youngsville, Pennsylvania. The studio operated from a refurbished living room on East Main. I remember telling my listeners about the confetti piece and comparing it to unseen treasures all around us – secrets shimmering just below the surface “stuff” of living. Listeners began calling in their own experiences to symbolize the idea of “hidden confetti” – unexpected bits of color in dark times.
Pretty soon, we had a list:
Seeing a smile from across the room.
A promise in the Bible.
Sea salt on the breeze.
The first sip from a cup of coffee on an unpleasant, icy morning.
A letter in the mail, handwritten and sealed with a kiss.
The smell of a pine forest.
When your favorite song comes on the radio.
Later, I Scotch-taped the surprise confetti into my journal. The sparkly list inspired more thoughts of unseen treasures all around us – secrets shimmering just beyond what’s so obvious. It may take a little effort, but it’s worth a closer look. Your “confetti” surprise may be very different from mine; perhaps it’s the company of a friend, or a rich memory, perhaps it’s the trusting hand of child’s in yours. An unexpected long-distance phone call.
Collect these discoveries in your own journal or wherever you keep your collection of photos, and soon you’ll be carrying around a generous barrel of confetti to shower on someone else who needs sprinkled light in their gloom.
I recall promising a Great Dane. So, it was that on a rainy winter day, in a radio studio, my nostrils were filled with the smell of wet dog – the station manager’s Great Dane, it was, resting his giant solemn head on my knee, these memories are keen in my heart, punctuated with an odd bit of confetti.
Perhaps because of this keen memory, I have now made the hero of my new picture book a dog because to my core, I believe that one of the greatest gifts of comfort and happiness that our Creator gave humanity was the gift of a furry dog-gone pet.
This calls for a deeper dive into gift-giving at Christmas. Why not entertain the idea of giving some intangibles this year?
The thought of going from presents to presence might be a little radical, but it can be relationally memorable and exciting!
Here’s a starter list – customize your list to your family and friends and watch a new tradition unfold.
Be a tourist in your hometown and try touring some new things with a dog leading the way
Volunteer together for something you all care about
Plan out a garden together and, with the design, include an I.O.U. – a day of weeding and a packet of favorite seeds
Give State Park Passes or National Park Passes or an Art/Science Museum
Give a behind-the-scenes tour of a city theater’s costume and art department
Ice Skating Lessons or a boating outing
Read a children’s book aloud to someone who would appreciate it
Offer Painting lessons at a Children’s Museum
Write a Letter of honor to someone who has especially touched your life
Offer letter writing or make and send cards – on behalf of an immigrant to loved ones
Commit to sending handwritten letters in lieu of texting
Learn paper folding together and make origami garlands for the tree.
Buy two hot chocolates: one for you and one for the Salvation Army bell. Stay with that bell ringer on a frosty Decemberrrrrr evening!
Go caroling with a small group to one or two shut-ins during the pandemic, and bring the popcorn balls, figs, pudding, and nickles to reverse payment when you sing
Offer to lead a Singing Bible Study in the Psalm Hymns in the new year
Most important of all, give room for the unexpected. Linger longer in ordinary spaces, and bear witness to a holy entrance of Possibility.
Sometimes you just need to share the sparkly stuff to shift Christmas spirits upward. Especially, in the early darkness that defines December and January afternoons, Give the unexpected a chance to happen.
Kathy Joy is the author of the Breath of Joy gift books and Will You Hold My Story, a child’s picturebook.