Christmas Past - Pt 1

"Don't be afraid! he said. "I bring you good news of great joy for everyone. The Savior-yes, the Messiah, the Lord-has been born tonight in Bethlehem, the city of David." "Christ is being lost in the faith that bears His name." Erwin McManus

For as long as I can remember, I have always loved Christmas. For so long, it was because of the human element of it, gifts, family, and just the all around good feeling of the season. It was not until I first came to know Him, on that long ago August night in 1979, that I began to understand what Christmas was really all about. Nearly 40 years later, I'm still learning how much more I have yet to understand.

McManus said Christ is being lost in the faith that carries His name. He's also being lost in the season that bears it as well, but not for the reasons we're so quick to focus on. He's being lost not just in the insistence that we say "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas." And not just in the rank commercialism of it all. I think He's being lost in the tragic absence of joy, particularly in the hearts of His people, when joy is to mark the lives of all to whom He has come. He is joy itself, yet in our hearts and lives there is so little joy at all. We have let the cares of life, the emphasis upon what we lack rather than who it is we have, coupled with countless other "stuff" to steal His gifts of joy, peace, and hope. I know. I have walked through such times, and too often.

I remember my first year in ministry. I'd taken on a very tough assignment, but was sure He would bring me forth to "success" in it. Yet what was happening wasn't success at all, at least as to how I defined it. It was Christmas, and in the living room was our tree, fully lit. I have always loved looking at a lit Christmas tree in the dark. It always seemed so uplifting to me. Yet on this night, it wasn't. All I saw was that which was not. The church and my ministry was not where I wanted it to be. Within me were feelings of disappointment, discouragement, and yes, anger. It wasn't supposed to be this way. Why was it this way? Why wasn't God "helping" me more? I wanted good news, but all I seemed to have was bad. As I sat there, wallowing in my self-pity, I was also listening to a radio program. In it, the story was told of a pastor who had planned a great Christmas celebration for his church, and waited in the foyer for all the arrivals. Yet no one arrived. He was alone in the church, crushed and defeated. As he stood there, a group of carolers came by. He felt the impulse to step out and join them. To sing, along with them, of the wonderful gift of Jesus Christ. And as he did so, the joy of the Lord filled his soul. His plan for himself had fallen apart, but the Father's plan had come together. In that simple story, I saw myself. The proclamation of joy that had been announced to me on that August night, was announced to me again on that night. I had been contemplating giving up in despair, but now, the joy of the Lord called me onward. This place was not the end. This chapter of my life may not be the one I had wished for, but He was not finished writing my story. He still has not finished...and His joy keep calling me, leading me on. The joy of the Lord is my 
strength.....especially when I have none of my own...which is often.

This week, I hope, with His grace, to share a few stories of my "Christmas past." The theme that I hope speaks loudly, is the gift of His joy, peace, and hope in the midst of both the darkness and the light. A child has been given us, a Savior has come. All heaven rejoices, and so must we. The "stuff" will conspire to keep us from seeing the Son, but if we'll look past it, we will behold Him. A friend of mine, Kerry Willis, always signs his correspondence, "All joy." That is what we must know in all places. His joy, as our joy, is all joy. May it be yours, and mine....today and always.

Blessings,
Pastor O

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