Finding the Joy Again
NOTES FROM THE VALLEY
December 6, 2009
"Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil for you are with me." Psalm 23.
FINDING THE JOY AGAIN
Thanksgiving is over and the Christmas shopping season is definitely in full swing around here. We always watch the "Black Friday"store openings on the local news in amazement. People camping out for days just to save a few dollars on some "doorbuster" special. . This year the internet even got into the act with us receiving invitations to logon to this site or that for a "doorbuster" special at 4:00 am!!! I wonder what the three wisemen would think of our modern day commercialization of the gifts they brought to the Christ child that first Christmas season?
Cathy and I are managing to stay out of that buying frenzy again this year. We did drive down into Fresno for a few purchases last Wednesday, but did most of the major stuff in October and November. Little odds and ends for the grandbabies and that's about it now. The Christmas cards are about wrapped up, the decorations on the inside of the house are about done, and we've just about reached that point were the only big obstacle left is planning for the Christmas dinner (who will attend and what do we need to buy in preparation). Cathy's even started watching some of those old favorite movies one of the local stations is featuring each evening. No academy award nominees, but good old tear jerkers with a Christmas message and a happy ending. That's how we like `em. Again this year, some of our holiday spending will be diverted into several local charities (Fresno Rescue Mission, Helping Hands, and a few national charities like Gospel for Asia's Project Hope, Operation Christmas Child (shoe boxes through our church), and a few others. It's such a joy to imagine some child somewhere in the world who will be blessed on Christmas morning with a gift, a loving message, and a meal because of the charities we help support. It gives Christmas morning an extra special warmth for us and I highly recommend the practice to each of you. .
We have come to really love this less frantic approach to Christmas. It means we don't have to get caught up in all the heavy crowds of frustrated people doing their Christmas shopping. It's an added blessing because we know some of our gifts will truly make a difference in someone's celebration of the true meaning of Christmas. It gives us a chance to focus more on the gift that was given to us on the first Christmas day. And finally, it gives us more time to reminisce about our childhood memories of the Christmas season and rediscover the Christmas joy that was ours as children.
Do you ever feel like you're losing your joy for Christmas? I know I did some years ago. It was a week before Christmas, it was just me and Cathy for the holidays because our children where scattered all over the country and couldn't make it home. I was in a terrible funk. Cathy sensed I was having trouble getting into the spirit of the season, so she began sharing with me how excited her young students were about Christmas and how they were all chattering about the Christmas story and "baby Jesus." It made me remember all the wonder I had experienced as a child at the telling of that story. Glued to the television set, hanging on every word, absorbing every scene as the story unfolded. Straining to look down the aisle of the church to get just a glimpse of the "baby Jesus" during the Christmas play. Asking my Dad questions about the things I didn't understand. Listening intently to his explanations. Staring at the Nativity set on our mantle, the figurines almost coming to life as I relived the story in my mind. Reaching out to touch the Christ child as if it was really him. Each brightly wrapped present under our tree a reminder of the precious gifts the wise men brought to the baby. Except for the gold, I really didn't understand what those gifts were, but I knew they must be really special if kings would travel so far for so long to give them. And how very special the "baby Jesus" must be to have angels and kings worshiping him. And somehow, because he was a child and I was a child, we shared a common bond together and that meant I was special too. In the midst of reliving those precious, childhood memories, I rediscovered the joy of Christmas and was taught a valuable lesson too.
Romans 12:2 says, "And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God." As a child, I had unknowingly practiced that scripture. I never tired of hearing and watching presentations about my Savior's birth. In so doing, I had experienced the perfect will of God - joy, wonder and a sense of intimacy with my Lord. As an adult, although I sought the renewing power of scripture in many areas of my life, I'd stopped doing it for Christmas. I conformed to the world. Gifts were purchased, decorations put up, guests entertained, and bills paid - but the renewing of my mind, the joy and intimacy that came with it, had gotten lost in the process.
Each year since that rediscovery, Cathy and I have tried to plan more time for enjoying the things that blessed us as children. In response, God has given us some wonderful revelations about Christmas that have multiplied our joy many times over. One of those revelations came through a book by Max Lucado I found eight years ago, called "Cosmic Christmas." In that book (based on the contents of Matthew, Luke, and Revelation) Max takes a fresh new look at the Christmas story through the fictional words and deeds of the angel Gabriel as he receives and carries out his orders from God for the "spiritual" battle which raged around the events leading up to the birth of Jesus. There were many scenes in that book that touched our hearts. But the one that touched us most deeply was a fictional confrontation between God and Satan as God is about to send His greatest gift to Earth.
"The two stood facing each other. God robed in light, each thread glowing. Satan canopied in evil, the very fabric of his robe seeming to crawl. Satan rose slowly off his haunches. Like a wary wolf, he walked a wide circle toward the desk until he stood before the volume (the Book of Life) and read the word: Immanuel. "Immanuel?" He muttered to himself. "God with us?" The hooded head turned squarely toward the face of the Father. "No, Not even you would do that. Not even you would go so far. The plan is bizarre! You don't know how dark I've made the Earth. It's putrid. It's evil. It's . . ."
"It's mine," proclaimed the King. "And I will reclaim what is mine."
"Why?" Satan asked. "Why would you do this?"
The Father's voice was deep and soft. "Because I love them."
He loves us. Loves us so much that He would leave behind the beauty and light of heaven and descend into the darkness of an evil infested Earth. Loves us so much that He would give up the power that spun this universe into existence and controls everything within it to become a helpless child, totally dependent upon an earthly father and mother. Close your eyes and meditate upon the magnitude and purity of that love for a few moments. What He gave up for us. What He became for us. Is it any wonder that the angels, on a cold, dark night some 2,000 years ago proclaimed the "good news of great joy." God loves us. God with us. Emmanuel.
I remain His grateful child,
Sheltered under His wing and overwhelmed by His love,
WILL THE CHRIST CHILD COME ?
(Author - Gaye Willis)
Halfway through December, we were doing the regular evening things when there was a knock at the door. We opened it to find a small package with a beautiful ceramic lamb inside. We looked at the calendar and realized that the 12 days of Christmas were beginning!! We waited excitedly for the next night's surprise and only then, with the gift of a matching shepherd, did we realized that the lamb was part of a nativity set. Each night we grew more excited to see what piece we would receive. Each was exquisitely beautiful. The kids kept trying to catch the givers as we slowly built the scene at the manager and began to focus on Christ's birth.
On Christmas Eve, all the pieces were in place, but the baby Jesus. My 12 year-old son really wanted to catch our benefactors and began to devise all kinds of ways to trap them. He ate his dinner in the mini-van watching and waiting, but no one came. Finally we called him in to go through our family's Christmas Eve traditions. But before the kids went to bed we checked the front step - no Baby Jesus! We began to worry that my son had scared them off. My husband suggested that maybe they dropped the Jesus and there wouldn't be anything coming.
Somehow, something was missing that Christmas Eve. There was a feeling that things weren't complete. The kids went to bed and I put out Christmas, but before I went to bed I again checked to see if the Jesus had come - no, the doorstep was empty.
In our family the kids can open their stockings when they want to, but they have to wait to open any presents until Dad wakes up. So one by one they woke up very early and I also woke up to watch them. Even before they opened their stockings, each child checked to see if perhaps during the night the baby Jesus had come. Missing that piece of the set seemed to have an odd effect. At least it changed my focus. I knew there were presents under the tree for me and I was excited to watch the children open their gifts, but first on my mind was the feeling of waiting for the ceramic Christ Child.
We had opened just about all of the presents when one of the children found one more for me buried deep beneath the limbs of the tree. He handed me a small package from my former visiting teaching companion. This sister was somewhat less active in the church. I had learned over time they didn't have much for Christmas, so that their focus was the children. It sounded like she didn't get many gifts to open, so I had always given her a small package - new dish towels, the next year's lesson manual-not much, but something for her to open. I was touched when at Church on the day before Christmas, she had given me this small package, saying it was just a token of her love and appreciation. As I took off the bow, I remembered my friendship with her and was filled with gratitude for knowing her and for her kindness and sacrifice in this year giving me a gift. But as the paper fell away, I began to tremble and cry. There in the small brown box was the baby Jesus. He had come!
I realized on that Christmas Day that Christ will come into our lives in ways that we don't expect. The spirit of Christ comes into our hearts as we serve one another. We had waited and watched for him to come, expecting the dramatic "knock at the door and scurrying of feet" but he came in a small, simple package that represented service, friendship, gratitude, and love.
This experience taught me that the beginning of the true spirit of Christmas comes as we open our hearts and actively focus on the Savior. But we will most likely find him in the small and simple acts of love, friendship and service that we give to each other.
This Christmas I want to feel again the joy of knowing that Christ is in our home. I want to focus on loving and serving. More than that I want to open my heart to him all year that I may see him again.
Don't forget the reason for the Season
Copyright © 1998 - 2009 by Stephen J. Hall - Letters of encouragement to Christians written by Stephen J. Hall unless otherwise indicated. Notes from the Valley and Humor from the Valley are meant to brighten your day and encourage you along the way. If you are blessed by them, please feel free to make copies and pass them along to others. If you have something you'd like to contribute to a future edition , want to ask us a question or make a comment, please contact us at: steveh.rbis@...
Your love, God, is my song, and I'll sing it! I'm forever telling everyone how faithful you are. I'll never quit telling the story of your love . . . (Psalm 89:1-3 The Message)