When I was a child, Mother would make snow for the Christmas tree by stirring Ivory soap flakes with water in a big metal dishpan and beat them with a rotary beater. Then the “snowflakes” would be ladled on to the tree limbs with a big spoon. We had strings of tiny pointy lights in many colors. Some years, we even had bubble lights; they were shaped like candles but had liquid inside them that would bubble when heated.
One of my favorite childhood memories was when sister Peggy and I received beautiful grown-up dolls for Christmas. Peggy’s had a hat with a big pink feather plume, and mine had a fur coat. Aunt Frances and Uncle Mutt had a car and would always drive from Bowie to Nocona for a Christmas afternoon visit. Sometimes they would come for lunch.
Of course, there are so many wonderful memories of my own children, and their children. Fred and I would buy special ornaments signifying the birth of each. Every year, it is fun and nostalgic to go through those ornaments, hang them on the tree, and remember.
Whether an outdoor electrical display or a candle on an old-fashioned tree, lights have always promised the coming of Christmas. I’ve learned how important light is, like the light turned on outside a patient’s room in a hospital or nursing facility, bringing relief, comfort, assistance and aid for those in need. I turn on a light for help, and the nurses and aides bring their own light into my room and my life.
At FCC Denton, “Candlelight Carol” by John Rutter has long been a favorite during Advent.
“Let there be light,” God said.
Jesus said, “I am the Light of the World.”
Jesus was the Light of the World for an oppressed people looking for a Savior. The Star of Bethlehem announced the coming of that long-sought Savior.
In one story the shepherds have left their sheep; in another the Wise Men have completed their journey. Joseph stands in loving support as Mary prepares for the birth of a new light into the world.
I contain all these energies within my consciousness – the anticipation, the joy.
May the Advent season bring to all the Light of the World, the Light of Joy, and of Peace, and of Hope, and of Love.
Sidney Sue Graham (2017)
I am colorblind on the red-green spectrum. Red and green and brown all look the same to me – they all look brown! Most Christmas decorations are red and green, which makes them dull and drab in my eyes. I felt left out of the festivities when I was a boy. I would ask my parents if we could have a flocked tree with blue ornaments and lights. I had seen them in the stores and in catalogs. My father said that they were too expensive, and the flocking would make a mess.
The year that I was in fourth grade, my father took me and my sister to the K Mart on University Drive. Under a tent in the parking lot, he led us to a big beautiful evergreen, with brilliant white flocking and solid blue ornaments and lights. It was beautiful. I could see the colors, my vision even enhanced them. We took that tree home. I knew that my family had made this choice just for me. It was the best Christmas present ever. I wanted that tree to be the last thing I saw when I went to sleep, and the first thing I saw when I woke up.
As an adult, I have always recognized that we are all different, yet we are equally precious. When I worked in healthcare, I made it a priority to appreciate each of my patients for what made them unique. I embraced each of them for who they were, just as they were. It was as if I was painting each of them a canvas, in the colors that they could see, that they could love, that meant the most to them.
Christmas merchandise always goes on sale after Christmas Day, and in December of 2017 Mark took me shopping. I bought a small, potted evergreen that we took to Sidney Sue Graham in her room at her rehab facility. She loved it, as I knew she would. She loved everything! I also found an artificial white tree, which will be in my apartment this year, with blue ornaments and lights.
Heavenly Father allow each of us to see Your light, and to embrace it, in the colors we can see, the colors we can love.
- Kenny Smith, as told to Mark Graham
One of my most vivid Christmas memories is from my teenage years growing up in Conroe, Texas. Our church always had a “live” nativity scene on the Saturday night before Christmas Eve. The youth played all the characters from the Christmas story. We even had real farm animals; they frequently tried to run amuck, so we really did need extra shepherds to wrangle them. One year I was particularly excited because I was finally old enough to portray Mary and we had a real baby for our Jesus. Five month old Gabe Fisher was just the perfect size for our production, what a cutie he was with his bright red curls. The moms had worked overtime getting the costumes made or repaired. Those Burger King crowns for the wise men were quite spectacular with the jewels glued on. We had several rehearsals, and everything was running according to plan. That was until the night of our production arrived. Temperatures in late December typically hover around a balmy 70 degrees in Conroe; this year we had a crazy cold front blow in and temperatures were closer to 34 degrees. How perfect was that? The temperature was much closer to that in the desert where our Savior was born that holy night. We made our way across the parking lot with our animals in tow; we arrived at the manger in front of the church and I deposited the baby in the manger per the script. Only our baby cried as soon as I put him the straw-filled bin. In that moment, I forgot about the script, ignored the stinky animals and the bright light from the tinsel star overhead. My only concern was to cradle that little baby in my arms, comfort him and keep him warm. Could my pretend experience be so different from what young Mary had some 2,000 years ago? I felt a kinship with her that I never had before or again until I was expecting my own children.
In this beautiful season, where it is so easy to be distracted by shopping, cooking, wrapping, decorating and parties I pray you will make time to find the manger. Imagine what it must have been like to bring that child into this world. Not just any child, but one that would save the world. His time on earth changed everything, but that night He just needed to be cradled and loved.
Wishing you a blessed Christmas season,
John 3:16 For God so Loved the World that he gave his only Son.
Fifteen or so years ago George and I went to Gainesville early in the Christmas season. The various churches in town were representing different parts of the Christmas Story. The story was acted out along and around the town square. The angel choir was singing from the roof of one of the buildings. There were shepherds in costume and sheep. I am sure the wisemen were represented as well. The stable housed animals and Mary (Pam Morrow) and Joseph (Andy Morrow) with the baby Jesus. The stage was set for a wonderful Christmas season helping all of us see the meaning of the season.
Christmas is a wonderful time of the year. However, we too often get caught up in shopping and decorating and do not take time to remember the reason for the season. I look back on Christmas as a child when there was a stocking hung and filled with little trinkets, nuts, and candy. There was a package to open on Christmas Eve that was always something new to wear to church. And, there were two or three gifts on Christmas morning plus cards with $1 in them from grandparents. We felt rich and we were. We were rich. We had a loving family that was a blessing for us all.
Today, we sometimes do not take the time we should to enjoy the reason for this season. It is Christ’s birthday. He needs our gifts. He needs our love – by loving our neighbor. That does not mean just the neighbor next door but the neighbors that do not have enough to eat or wear or a roof over their heads. He needs our time to deliver rice and beans or other edibles to those who are hungry. He needs us to tell his story to little ones, older ones, those in care centers. Christ needs us to witness for him. In this way we can share Christs love and caring.
Heavenly Father, we give you thanks for the Christ Child. Guide us that we might use opportunities presented to us to share our gifts with others not as fortunate as we are.
Isaiah 40:3 A voice of one calling: In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord.
Not so long ago, I went through a period of dreading Christmas. The decorating, the shopping, the traveling, the inevitable sick child or children was almost too much for me. I thought: how happy Satan must be that I dread such a sacred event in Christianity. What an evil victory that the birth of the Messiah has become such a stressful, commercial spectacle.
Then one Sunday, one of my former ministers gave a sermon that brought me hope. This is what he shared with me that began to change my attitude. The story of Christmas is about the birth of a baby. Advent is preparing for the birth of a baby. The baby will come whether we are ready or not. When a family is expecting a baby, they begin preparing. Despite all the decorating, shopping, planning and anticipating, is anyone ever truly ready? The baby will come whether we are ready or not. Was the world ready for the birth of the Savior of humankind? He came anyway. Christmas will come anyway, always. Hallelujah!
Luke 2:10-12 Do not be afraid. I bring you good tidings of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David, a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.
As a young family with two little girls, Christmases could be hectic, with all the self-imposed "must do’s".
And the Baby was born.
Christmas Eve gatherings, three families, 10 cousins, plus Grandpa and Grandma, alternating between our house and Dick's younger sister's house. One year was "Chicken Pox" Christmas, of course to be held at our house, until early on Christmas Eve morning our older daughter was discovered to have ONE unmistakable pock on her back! We knew she had been exposed at a birthday party, and we also knew that none of the cousins had had the disease. So, the food and gifts were transported to Dick's sister's, much to our 6-year-olds distress. Gifts were eventually exchanged; we took advantage of a mild (non-snowy!) evening to drive around our little community and see the decorations. Our 2-year-old daughter did get the Pox, too, albeit far more on a much smaller body! Might as well get it over with, and fortunately neither daughter was very sick at all, other than a few sniffles.
And the Baby was born.
The children grow, and in our case, become involved in church activities, including choirs singing at church on Christmas Eve. The extended family was invited to join us, but they declined. One year we were back to hosting the dinner, with a deadline that folks had to either go home or come to church with us, because we needed to be there. Dinner was prepared, places were set, and 8 people out of maybe 16 didn't show up, with no explanation. Tears of frustration and self-righteousness fell at church when the Cherub Choir, including our daughter, in their little blue robes with white collars, came out and sang "Away in A Manger"....who can resist?
And the Baby was Born.
Now, two adult daughters, one son-in-law, and no grandchildren. This year's new tradition: no gifts, just a check and the freedom of the recipient to choose how to use it. Another kind of freedom, too: no need to pay attention to advertising, sales, the frenzy......ah, there IS joy in Christmas, a quiet, comfortable sense of hope!
And the Baby will be born, again, and again......
Second Sunday of Advent – Peace
Peace: 1. freedom from disturbance; quiet and tranquility. 2. freedom from or the cessation of war or violence.
Peace isn’t the word used to describe Christmas and yet is part of Advent - preparing for the celebration of Jesus coming, peace is one of the ways we are to prepare. Peace is all through the Bible. We are called to be the peace, to pursue the peace, to choose peace. The one whose name is Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6) and God of Peace (Hebrews 13:20-21). He is the one who will guide our feet into the path of Peace (Luke 1:79). His name is Jesus. He spoke these words to his followers during troubling times. “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God, believe in me.” (John 14:1)
I have been challenged to accept some changes in my life that limit my abilities and the plans I have for my future. How I choose to respond can ultimately determine my sense of internal peace and the peace I can then bring to others. Can I find peace when I am told I cannot achieve my dreams because of something beyond my control and my ability to change? Can I surrender to God's will? Apparently not without a fight, or at least a lengthy discussion with God, one to one. Not without trying my best. Just as Jesus had, I requested, "O my Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will." The second part of that request came later as it was harder to include in the beginning. God's will is often very mysterious. But there is a plan for me, so I make every effort to overcome the obstacles I face each day with a steady faith and persistence, and still cope with the reality of my circumstances and to live the will of God. Day by day, one day at a time, helps keep things in perspective; to count each step I take and make each step I take count. Let this season of remembering the birth of the Prince of Peace be the one where we ask the God of Peace to bring rest and peace into our troubled hearts. This Advent I hope and pray we all can find that peace that God wants us to have, and to share it with each other, not just today, not just this season, but every day. The peace of God be with you.
Prayer of St Francis of Assisi:
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace:
where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy.
O divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console,
to be understood as to understand,
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence Chalice Hymnal 124
This is a favorite of mine for several reasons. It begins by emphasizing the awe, wonder, and mental attitude of the season: with fear and trembling stand, ponder nothing earthly minded.
I particularly appreciate the multiple references to Jesus as God and human, not just God’s Son which might imply that He was separate and inferior when compared to God. To make this clear, the hymn uses phrases such as this: Truly God, yet born of Mary, Word of God in human vesture, and Light of Light descended from realms of endless day.
Several purposes of His coming are noted. He came to bless us, to demand homage, to give His own self for Heavenly food, to vanish the powers of hell, and to clear away the shadows of life.
Verses 3 and 4 conjure images of angels in ranks heralding His birth, and bowing, with wings, sleepless eyes and veiled faces, while crying Alleluia!
The giving of His body and His blood for Heavenly food and vanishing the powers of hell foretell His impending death – a somber note but a crucial part of the story.
The lyrics portray such vivid images that they make the story of the birth of Jesus poignant and memorable. The haunting, minor key melody enhances the lyrics.
Many carols focus on the physical details of His birth: Bethlehem, manger, shepherds, angels, star, magi, etc. While these are important and not to be forgotten, this carol reminds us of the lengths God went to for humanity, and the reason He became human.
Submitted with awe and wonder,
I don’t understand what the big deal is. If you are Jewish, tell me “Happy Hanukkah.” If you are Christian, tell me “Merry Christmas.” If you are African American, tell me “Joyous Kwanzaa.” If you don’t prefer any of these, tell me “Happy Holidays.”
I will not be offended. I will be thankful that you took the time to say something nice to me.
One of my favorite Christmas memes is the one which addresses the myth of the so-called “war on Christmas”. By showing respect to those of other traditions, we are not rejecting Christmas. One of my favorite Christmas Scriptures is from the Gospel of John: For God so loved the world that the only Son of God was given. The Love of God made manifest, so powerfully incarnate that even the Magi were compelled to respond. Practitioners of a radically different religious tradition, yet they were touched by the force of God’s power and love coming into the world. When we try to own Christmas and restrict the meaning to that which is consistent with our biases and rules, the true meaning of Christmas is lost. The meaning of “The Son of God was Born” is somehow too open for some, for it does not define how we want the rest of the story to go. Yet the truth of the story is there. The Son of God was born… for all the world. Why? God’s Love.
Rev. Jack Mullins
Luke 18:1 And He spoke a parable unto them to this end that men ought always to pray and not to faint.
On October 29, 2018 I was in an automobile accident. I fell asleep as I was traveling alone from Grandview, Missouri to Corinth, Texas. I have made the trip many times before. I am a careful driver. The trip is a familiar route, seven and a half hours of about 520 unremarkable miles.
As much as I want to tell about the accident, and what it felt like to spin out of control after waking from a miniscule nap at 75 miles an hour, it is extremely hard to relate a moment that appeared like a blink in a whirlwind. I can look back and say I know that the Lord kept me from being taken out of this world.
My husband reminded me that this was the third time that I have almost been taken from him in death. He counted the time we were traveling together and spun out on a rain slick highway, and my breast cancer diagnosis which included a double mastectomy with months of chemotherapy, and then surviving this horrific wreck. However, I can count many more times. I realize that if I could see as clearly as God sees, I would know there are multiple times more.
The hours leading up to this accident was an amazing time for me. I was going back to Texas after visiting my grandchildren while their parents had a rare time away. The children have grown to amazing levels of adorable, so we had loads of fun although it was also a lot of work for me and I didn’t sleep much. I was praying for my family, talking to God about things going on in my life and asking for wisdom, help, guidance, and maybe a million dollars to take care of a few necessary things. Then I started singing out loud in my car without the radio or CD. I was singing songs of thanksgiving and praise, improvising, signifying and realizing that I had God’s attention and his anointing and great joy.
After this awesome prayer meeting, I stopped to get snacks and use the restroom. Back on the road, I was making good time because I had started out so early. Then the accident happened. It seemed I was just sitting there in the car upturned on its side for a short while before people started coming toward me. Someone asked if I was alright and I said I was. One man said, ‘I am so glad to see you. I wasn’t sure what I would find.’
I thank the Lord God for protecting me from bodily damage. I thank Him for giving me peace in my mind and I thank Him for answering prayer. Most of all, I am thankful the memory of that time alone in my car in His presence has never left me. Mainly because I know that somebody prayed for me and I don’t want to imagine what condition I could have been in if not for prayer. For this reason, I am determining to make prayer a priority.
Yes, I have read books about prayer, attended the lonely weekly prayer meetings, raised my hands to request prayers, tried to figure out how to pray for an unspoken prayer request, and I do pray. But lately I have been reminded of the lyrics of an old song: “Somebody’s praying. I can feel it. Somebody’s praying for me. Mighty hands are guiding me, to protect me from what I can’t see. Lord I believe somebody’s praying for me.”
When my mind goes back to the accident, I think about how little time I had to assess my situation, realize I was in trouble and say, Lord help me. All I could say was Jesus, Jesus, Jesus. I am convinced that Christians need to pray. Ephesians 6:18 Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit. And watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints.
I am thankful for the prayer that Jesus prayed in the garden in John 17, that I would believe in Him through the word that the apostles preached. The realization that we have the privilege to pray to the God of Heaven and every prayer is heard, every prayer is answered, every prayer is eternal make me wonder why we don’t pray more often. Why is the admonition to pray without ceasing such a seemingly monumental task for me? I don’t know about anyone else, but I have had a problem with this one.
Father, I come to you in the name of Jesus to thank You for answering prayer. Thank You for the prayers of the saints. Help us to remember to ask, seek, and knock because it is Your pleasure to give good gifts to Your children. And even more shall You our Heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask Him.