Tag Archive for christmas

The Perfect Christmas Gift

I love Christmas and I love giving people gifts…but I really struggle trying to figure out what gift to give. It seems like everyone has everything they need. My wife and children put together Christmas lists and I look at the list. That helps. I can choose from the list. But sometimes I want to give them something from the list and something more, something that can really express my love for them.

This year, as I contemplate just what to give each family member to express my love, I decided to follow the example given on that first Christmas day. God knew the perfect gift to give. He loved us so much that He gave Himself. He emptied Himself of heavenly privilege and entered into the lives of those He loved. He became Immanuel, “God with Us.” He gave Himself in service stating that He had come to serve, not to be served. He gave Himself to ransom us (1 Timothy 2:6) from the evil that had kidnapped us. He gave Himself for our sins (Galatians 1:4) so we could receive His righteousness. He gave the perfect gift. He gave Himself.

This Christmas I’m going to follow His example. I’m going to “re-gift” myself to my family. The gift of myself won’t simply be opened on Christmas day and set aside. No, it will be an ongoing gift; one I will give to each one for the rest of my life. I’m going to set aside any perceived privilege and selfish tendencies so I can enter their lives and serve them, listen to them, encourage them, and support them. I’m going to give them my time and energy to help them reach their dreams and goals. I’m going to give them my love. Maybe, in the gift of myself, they will be inspired to live a more loving life themselves. That just makes the gift all the better. Yes. That’s what I’m going to do. I’m giving the gift of self…it’s the perfect gift.

I Heard the Bells?

It has been a rough couple of years for all. Person loss, deaths, pandemic confusion, political turmoil, continued racial and ethnic strife. I wonder if we are catching a glimpse of how Henry Wadsworth Longfellow must have felt in 1863. He had lost his wife two years earlier (1861) when her dress accidentally caught fire. Mr. Longfellow tried to save her and severely burned his hands, arms, and face in the process. Sadly, he could not save her, and she died the next day. Mr. Longfellow was burnt so badly he could not attend her funeral.

The Civil War also began in 1861. In 1863, his oldest son joined the Union army even though his father disapproved. Mr. Longfellow discovered his son had left for the army when he found the note his son had written before leaving. On December 1, 1863, Mr. Longfellow received a telegram saying his son had been severely wounded in battle on November 27. He rushed to Washington D.C. where a surgeon told him that “the wound was very serious and paralysis might ensue.” (He did recover without paralysis.)

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow had experienced unexpected loss of life when his wife passed. His son lay severely wounded in fighting for a cause the family believed. And still, peace seemed a distant shadow. the Civil War with all its racial strife and political turmoil raged. Amidst this chaos, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow heard church bells ringing and began to write…

“I heard the bells on Christmas Day

Their old, familiar carols play,

And wild and sweet

The words repeat

Of peace on earth, good-will to men!”

“And thought how, as the day had come,

The belfries of all Christendom

Had rolled along

The unbroken song

Of peace on earth, good-will to men!”

“Till ringing, singing on its way,

The world revolved from night to day,

A voice, a chime,

A chant sublime

Of peace on earth, good-will to men!”

“Then from each black, accursed mouth

The cannon thundered in the South,

And with the sound

The carols drowned

Of peace on earth, good-will to men!”

“It was as if an earthquake rent

The hearth-stones of a continent,

And made forlorn

The households born

Of peace on earth, good-will to men!”

“And in despair I bowed my head;

“There is no peace on earth,” I said;

For hate is strong,

And mocks the song

Of peace on earth, good-will to men!”

“Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:

“God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;

The Wrong shall fail,

The Right prevail,

With peace on earth, good-will to men.”

Maybe we need to take a moment this Christmas—a moment of respite in the midst of personal loss, unexpected death, pandemic confusion, overall political turmoil, and continued racial and ethnic strife—to recall and meditate upon Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s lament and the Christmas hope it recalls…of “Peace on earth, good-will to men.” 

Join the Christmas Rebellion This Year

The family celebration of Christmas has always been a bit rebellious. But, given the events of this year, celebrating Christmas with your family is even more rebellious than usual. Successfully engaging in this Christmas rebellion requires the proper handling of 3 Christmas weapons. Learning to use these Christmas weapons effectively begins in our families.

The first weapon of Christmas is peace. Christmas celebrates the birth of Jesus who came to bring “peace on earth.” Teaching our families to pursue peace is countercultural today. No, pursuing peace is rebellious in our world of confusion, agitation, & conflict.

  • Pursuing peace involves doing the work to resolve differences with one another in a loving, just manner. This ability starts in the family and is practiced among family members. You can better resolve differences and conflict with the Ten Commandments for Effective Conflict.
  • Pursuing peace involves seeking the good of each family member rather than simply looking out for your individual wants and desires.
  • Pursuing peace means apologizing for wrongs done to one another as well as keeping a short account of wrongs done by others. Once again, family offers us a training ground where we learn to do this well.  

The second weapon of Christmas is joy. The angels told the shepherds they were bringing them “good news of GREAT JOY….” Today, teaching our families to celebrate joy is a form of rebellion in a world that seeks to rob us of joy by filling us with fear and sadness.

  • Celebrating joy takes intentional effort to see those things around us that are worthy of praise, things that are honorable. Then, after recognizing those things, acknowledging them with celebration. What has your spouse, parent, or child done today for which you can praise them? I’m sure there are numerous things to note.
  • Celebrating joy involves sharing gratitude with one another for even the “little things.” We can begin sharing gratitude within our families, thanking one another for even the mundane things done for one another every day.
  • Celebrating joy overflows when we intentionally share acts of kindness with each family member and the community around us.

The final weapon of Christmas is unity. Today the norm seems to be hatred, self-promotion, and division. But Jesus came to bring unity between man and God as well as unity between man and one another in Him. So, in the Christmas rebellion we continue to seek unity.

  • Unity is found in seeking truth and living in that truth. Within the family, we speak the truth to one another in love. We discipline one another to live in truth and integrity.
  • Unity is undergirded with the radical acceptance of one another in spite of differences or disagreements. Learning to practice this type of acceptance begins with accepting our family members in this way.
  • Unity is promoted through serving one another, showing each family member the full extent of our love.

Christmas has always been a bit rebellious, but it is time to make the Christmas rebellion a revolution. Will your family join the cause of the Christmas rebellion this year?

Relieving Christmas Stress

Ever feel overwhelmed and stressed during the Christmas season? I do. The constant rush and hurry leaves me overwhelmed. The shopping crowds and traffic increase my frustration and stress. Even though I love my family, I experience more relational strain as routines get disrupted and modified. But a recent study has identified a way to reduce my stress and anxiety…and I’m going to implement it this year. Maybe you will find it helpful too.

Researchers from the University of Connecticut and Masaryk University (Czech Republic) identified a simple way to reduce stress in studies they completed in a laboratory AND in real-life situations. What did they find that helped reduce stress even in the face of potential natural disaster? Rituals. That’s right. Rituals reduced stress and anxiety. Specifically, these studies found that religious rituals led to a “greater reduction in both psychological and physiological stress” than did simply “sitting and relaxing.”  Although this research utilized religious ritual, the authors generalized the results to rituals in general (this generalization may be a topic for further research by the way). 

How do rituals help reduce anxiety and stress? For one thing, they are repetitive and predictable. They provide structure, regularity, and predictability. This gives us a sense of control which helps to reduce stress. They also tie us into “something bigger than ourselves” which, in turn, brings a greater sense of peace and reduces anxiety. (For more on the benefits of tradition & ritual read Traditions…Let’s Celebrate.)

So, if you are feeling overwhelmed, stressed, and full of anxiety during this Christmas season, focus on the Christmas rituals that bring structure and predictability into the season. Here are some great Christmas rituals to get you started.

  • Decorate a Christmas tree together. Decorating the Christmas tree is one of the rituals I like best. (Don’t tell my family though cuz it’s the family night I secretly love.)
  • Enjoy family dinner. Of course, you can enjoy a special dinner on Christmas and Christmas Eve but why limit it to those two days. Enjoy a simple family meal together every day during the holiday season.
  • Set up a nativity scene. Talk about one character in the nativity scene every day— shepherds, angels, wise men, Mary, Joseph, the Baby Jesus. You might even enjoy finding a nativity scene from various ethnic backgrounds and have more than one in your home. (You can find some at Nativity Sets | Nativity Scenes from Around the World: Magellan Traders)
  • Hide the Christmas Pickle. Or, if you’re not into pickles, hide the Christmas Nail.
  • Move the Elf on the Shelf. Or, if you would rather, move the wise men from your nativity scene. Begin by putting the wise men in a spot far from the nativity scene and move them to a new place closer to the nativity every day. Let your family enjoy the daily search to see where they are on their journey.
  • Use an Advent Calendar. You can either buy one or make one as a family (Here are 16 Best DIY Advent Calendar Ideas of 2020 – How to Make an Advent Calendar (housebeautiful.com) ). Just have some fun with it as you learn
  • Watch Christmas shows with your family. Pick out the favorites you want to watch every year. You could watch them on TV or a live show. Or you might act them out as a family.
  • Attend a Christmas Eve Service at a local church.

What rituals do you enjoy over the Christmas holiday season?

The Best Christmas: Honor, Grace, & Celebration

Christmas has suddenly appeared on the horizon. I don’t know about you, but it seems like the time between Thanksgiving and Christmas gets shorter every year. The hustle and bustle of crowds and traffic seems more pronounced. Because the spirit of Christmas so easily eludes me, I need to take the time to reflect on Christmas and what it means to me. I hope you don’t mind me sharing a few things, only three, about what Christmas means to me. And, these three aspects of Christmas can become Christmas themes to practice all year round.

Christmas tells of honor. Mary, the mother of Jesus, exemplifies honor in so many ways. When the angel told her that she would have a baby who would “reign over the house of Jacob forever, and His kingdom will have no end,” she accepted his word. She obeyed the call of God. She even said, “May it be done to me according to your word.” She trusted. She obeyed. She honored.

One of the greatest gifts we can share with our family at Christmas is the gift of honor. We can honor our spouse and our parents by accepting their influence in our lives, by learning to submit to one another in love. We honor our children by modeling a reputation of integrity, generosity, and love.

Christmas tells of grace. We see grace in Joseph’s devotion to Mary. In the days of Jesus’ birth, a woman who became pregnant out of wedlock was a scandal deserving death. But Joseph, Mary’s fiancé, did not want to “disgrace Mary.” He did not want to make thigs harder for her than it already was. So, he determined to quietly end their engagement. However, an angel confirmed Mary’s baby was Jesus, who would “save His people from their sins.”  With this word, Joseph took Mary as his wife. It didn’t matter what other people might think or what they might say. He would devote himself to her and to raising her child. His devotion reveals his grace.

Of course, we also see grace given us from Jesus at Christmas. He “did not consider equality with God a thing to be used to His own advantage, but rather made Himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant…” (Philippians 2:6-7, NIV). We see grace in Jesus, who gave up all to give us all, who left home to bring us home.

You can share the gift of grace with your family all year long. Accepting each one in spite of differences and even in light of shortcomings. Giving generously of your time and availability to each of your children and your spouse. Taking the time and energy to grow emotionally connected to one another. Each of these actions is a grace given to your family.

Christmas tells of celebration. God arranged an angelic choir to sing an anthem in response to Jesus’ birth.  In response, the shepherds ran to the manger and celebrated the birth of their Messiah. Later in the story, wise men “came from afar” to bring gifts in celebration of the “newborn King.”

When we share the gifts of honor and grace with our family, we find the gift of celebration comes naturally. We celebrate our love by sharing gifts. We also celebrate our family by serving one another, encouraging one another, and comforting one another all year long.

We celebrate Christmas day once a year. But the spirit of Christmas extends throughout the year when we share honor, grace, and celebration with one another. Have a merry Christmas…and let it last throughout the year in honor, grace, and celebration.

Make a Little Christmas Hygge

Last Christmas I receive The Little Book of Hygge: The Danish Way to Live Well. I love it. It describes one of the things we seek most in life, hygge.  “Hygge is about an atmosphere and an experience, rather than about things. It is about being with the people we love. A feeling of home. A feeling that we are safe, that we are shielded from the world and allow ourselves to let our guard down” (page 6). I love hygge. I’d like more of it in my life. I work to bring it into my family. And Christmas is one of the best times to create some hygge. In fact, Christmas is one of the most hygge times of the year. Christmas is the one time a year in which “hygge is the ultimate goal of an entire month” (page 218). To make Christmas truly hyggelig takes intentional planning, thought, and effort. But it’s worth the effort because everybody wants a hyggelig Christmas. So, here are a few ideas to make your Christmas an extra hygge Christmas as well.

  • Fire and candles. Hygge is always greater with the natural light of flickering candles or a glowing fireplace. The natural warmth and the dancing flame that cast shadows upon all those gathered to share the Christmas season is truly hygge. So, if you have a fireplace, light it up. If not, put some candles around the room and bask in the dancing shadows of their flickering light while sharing conversation with family and friends.
  • Food and drink. Food is important to hygge and Christmas is a great time for food. Enjoy your Christmas dinner along with Christmas cookies and pies. You might even enjoy some special beverages like eggnog, wassail, hot chocolate, or some other family drink tradition. You can share cookies with friends and neighbors, swapping your favorites with one another. The important thing about Christmas, hygge, and food is to enjoy it all together. Share food, company, and conversation to let the hygge flow.
  • Comfy clothes. No need to dress up or put on uncomfortable clothes. You’re with friends and family. Put on some comfy clothes for relaxing. Your company is much more important than your dress when it comes to hygge. The interaction and the shared experience are the key ingredients of joy, not the fancy clothes. So, hang up the tie and the put away the high heels. Put on the comfy clothes and enjoy one another’s company.
  • Music. Music always adds to hygge. Play some music in the background. Share your favorite songs. If you enjoy playing or singing, have a sing-along. Take it on the road and do some caroling. Of course, when you finish caroling, enjoy some hot chocolate, eggnog, or some hot buttered rum as you talk about your caroling adventure in the light of candles.
  • Company: Friends and Family. You may have noticed how often company, friends, and family were mentioned in the above ingredients. Hygge just isn’t hygge without our loved ones around us. Enjoy your time together. Put away the phones and the I-Pads. Forget the video games and PlayStations. Pull out a board game instead. Enjoy a game of cards or “salad bowl.” Talk. Reminisce. Dream. Laugh. Enjoy one another’s company. You know it doesn’t get any more hygge than this!

Have a very merry Christmas this year, a Christmas filled with hygge, family, and friends.

Teach Your Family the “Hidden” Message of Christmas

Most of us know the Christmas story. Baby Jesus was born of the virgin Mary and placed in a manger because there was no room in the inn. That’s the story; but, hidden in plain sight for all who look more closely, is a deeper message for Christmas…a message not just about “baby Jesus” but about Immanuel.  Immanuel is my favorite Christmas word. It means “God with us.”  I love the truth of Immanuel. Jesus “emptied Himself,” became a man, and dwelt among us. He literally became “God with us” to bring peace between God and man as well as peace among men who truly hear His message.


The message of Immanuel has gotten lost today. We live in a divided world.  Divisions grow stronger as interest groups rally for their personal wants and needs, erecting walls between “us” and any who might disagree with “us.”  Conflict increases as we sequester with like-minded people behind walls of demands for “my” space, “my” needs, and “my” desires.  At the same time, we hide in fear from the travesty of disagreements that might call “my” belief into question. Fear, conflict, and division give rise to battles about “mine” and “theirs” and between “me” and “them.”  In the midst of the growing division, isolation, and conflict God speaks the message of Immanuel, “God with us.” “God with us” breaks down the barriers and puts an end to isolation. He walks with us, talks with us, eats with us, laughs with us, cries with us…He is “God with us.” He breaks through the fears and speaks the message of peace through Immanuel, “God with us.” “God with us” bring “peace among men with whom He is pleased.”  Yes, our barrier-filled world needs to hear the message of Immanuel.

The message of Immanuel, “God with us,” was first spoken through a Baby. Who doesn’t love a baby? Who doesn’t feel a sense of joy and peace in the presence of a baby? Who doesn’t want to come alongside a baby and connect with a baby? Yes, Immanuel spoke His first message of “God with us” as a Baby, a Baby born into an occupied country to poor parents. “God with us,” a baby born to a woman who experienced the pain of being cast out because she appeared to have engaged in activities outside the accepted behaviors of her culture. “God with us,” a Baby worshipped by poor people like shepherds and wealthy people like the “magi from the east.” “God with us,” a Baby who had to flee with His family to escape political persecution and death. “God with us.” Yes, Christmas celebrates “God with us,” all of us. Like us, “God with us” experienced the joys of family and friends. He experienced the pain of persecution and disenfranchisement. He knew the struggles of poverty and the riches of faith. He touched the lives of people in every circle. He is Immanuel, “God with us,” walking with all people…in every walk of life. As our families learn the message of Immanuel, as we come to understand the message of “God with us,” perhaps we will learn to walk with those Immanuel chose to walk with–the outcasts and the accepted ones, the poor and the rich, the joyous and the sorrowful, those in our homes and those outside our homes–for we are representatives of Immanuel. Will you join me in living the message of Immanuel this year?

Perfect Last-Minute Christmas Gifts

Are you looking for the perfect last-minute Christmas gift? If you are, forget the new shirt or the latest gadget. Research suggests that experiential gifts are more “socially connecting.” They  strengthen relationship more than material gifts. Experiential gifts allow us to experience more intense emotions like adventure, relaxation, or excitement than do material gifts like clothing or the latest coffee maker. Even more, when the experiential gift allows you to engage in the activity with the recipient, you will draw closer together through the emotion of that activity. So, if you want to buy a gift that can enhance intimacy with your spouse or strengthen your bond with your child, try an experiential gift. You will definitely get more memories for your money, more “bang for your buck.” If you’re not sure what to get, here are a few ideas:

  • Tickets to an amusement park
  • Dinner dates. You might try a book of homemade coupons for “one a month.”
  • A weekend getaway.
  • Tickets to a concert, musical, or dance.
  • A membership to the museum or the zoo.
  • A date night jar filled within expensive dates and an opportunity to add to the jar.
  • A promise to attend family game night once a month for a year. (Of course, you have to keep that promise.)
  • A carrot, some coal, and a hat so you can run outside this afternoon and make a snow man together.
  • A picnic box with plans for family picnics. 
  • Family dinners.
  • Walking maps for family walks.

You get the idea. Give a gift that will allow you to have an enjoyable experience with your family. You’ll love. They’ll love it. Your relationship will love it!

A Christmas Pickle? You Bet!

In our family we started celebrating the “Christmas Pickle” several years ago. I tried to find the reason for the Christmas Pickle when we began this celebration. Rumor has it that the pickle is an old German emblem of good luck. So, the tradition began. Hide the Christmas Pickle in the tree and the first to find it on Christmas morning gets the luck. They can open the first present, receive an extra gift, or enjoy good luck for the coming year. Which reward the observant family member received depends on the tradition your family chooses to follow.  I don’t know about this theory of origin. I find more references to pigs being symbols of luck than I do pickles. And I’ve never heard of anyone hiding a Christmas Pig in their tree. (Although…maybe we could sell some Christmas Pig ornaments and….No, it wouldn’t work.)

Another tradition expounds the tale of two Spanish boys trapped in a pickle barrel by a cruel innkeeper over Christmas break.  St. Nick set them free by tapping the barrel with his staff. So why not use the Christmas Staff for good luck, not the pickle? I was still not satisfied.

I found one last theory for the Christmas Pickle.  A man fell ill while in prison during the Civil War. As a dying wish he asked for a pickle. (Go figure. I wonder if he wanted dill or sweet.) Anyway, a kind-hearted guard found him a pickle. The man not only enjoyed the pickle, but, in time, recovered from his illness and returned home. In honor of the moment when, in the throngs of death, he savored a pickle, the man began hiding pickles (real pickles, by the way, as ornaments were not in style for another 15 years) in his Christmas tree…a tradition to recall his good fortune. I think I would have just stuck with savoring a pickle now and again.

I never discovered a reliable origin story for the Christmas Pickle. I just make my own up…different every year. So why do we still celebrate the Christmas Pickle. Because it’s fun. It’s a way to slow the Christmas season down a little and savor the tree while we look for a pickle. It’s a way to laugh as a family because we look for a hidden pickle in the tree. It’s another way we draw closer as a family as we laugh, celebrate, and enjoy one another’s company. I love it when I can watch my children laugh and celebrate. I imagine God enjoys it when He can watch His children laugh and celebrate as well, especially in celebration of the birthday of His Son too! So go ahead. Hide the Christmas Pickle and laugh, enjoy the pickle search, and draw closer to your family.

(If you’re interested, all three of the Christmas Pickle origin theories are briefly described in What’s the Real Story Behind the Christmas Pickle Ornament?)

A Star Wars Christmas

christmasStarWarsOn a small planet in a distant galaxy, a rebel prince named Satan fueled period of civil unrest. In arrogance, Satan had exploited the vulnerabilities of the King’s forces to form a coup and wrest the kingdom from its Creator. His rebel forces continued to entice, seduce, and enslave the King’s men. As part of his sinister plot, the evil prince even turned the loyalty of the King’s men toward himself. Those who refused to succumb to Satan’s tactics were killed, murdered without remorse. With each man the prince enslaved, he gained power…power to destroy an entire planet.

And then…A long time ago, in a Galilee far, far away, the King revealed His final and most loving battle plan. With a most extraordinary and unconventional strategy, the King initiated His final battle. He infiltrated enemy territory by sending His own Son, not as a warrior, but as an unassuming Baby Boy born in a manger in the midst of enemy occupied land. As this epic battle between good and evil forces progressed, the precious Baby Boy’s safety was entrusted into the hands of mere humans, a teen mother and an innocent father, both members of an oppressed people living under military rule on the planet ruled by the evil prince. Warned in a dream, the young family fled to Egypt to escape the evil prince. Upon return to their homeland & in near silence, the Baby boy grew into a man—an obedient Son and a Servant of the True King. When He suddenly burst onto the scene as an adult, the heavens were torn open and the Spirit descended upon Him. The Baby boy, now a Servant Man, defeated the evil prince in a 40-day dessert battle and began to proclaim the dawning of the Kingdom of God. He revealed the Kingdom of God by making the blind to see, the lame to walk, and the deaf to hear. He began to purge the Kingdom of God by casting out demons, the evil prince’s elite forces on earth. He turned the hearts of men and women back toward the King with words that filled them with amazement.

In a final epic battle, the Son of God engaged in hand to hand combat with death, Satan’s greatest warrior. He felt the power of death’s greatest blow. He willingly succumbed to the pain. He assumed the burden and punishment of our sin, and He experienced the loss of His own life. To all who saw this final battle, it appeared as though death had won. Life was dead!

But, it was all part of the True King’s ingenious plan. In a complete twist of plot, it was through the voluntary, sacrificial death of the Perfect, Unblemished Lamb of God that the battle was won. For when the Son of God became our sin, we gained His righteousness. It was by His wounds we were healed; through His death we gained life. Just as the King had orchestrated from the beginning of time, it was through this seeming defeat, this sacrificial death, that the King won the victory and Satan was defeated. Life was set free and God’s Spirit was poured out to empower all those in the Kingdom of God.

This story continues today. The Kingdom of God continues to grow. Each time we gather at the communion table, we remember the King’s greatest victory. Each time we drink the cup and eat the bread of His covenant, we recall the victory He has won. We rejoice in the knowledge that the King, Jesus Christ, is coming back soon for His final victory parade.

And that final victory begins with a tiny Baby in a manger. Merry Christmas.

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