Wednesday, December 20, 2017

I Am Simeon -- A First Person Christmas Story

The place: Jerusalem. 
The time: during the rule of Caesar Augustus. 

And I know what your Bible says about me. The first phrase is quite accurate: There was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon. That’s me, the man named Simeon. 

Your Bible also says that I was “looking for the consolation of Israel.”  What's that mean? The world was so dark with sinful, despotic, self-seeking, godless people (it’s nothing new to your time) that I knew we desperately needed the Messiah to come and save us. He would be our comforter, our consolation, our salvation.

Doctor Luke also wrote that I was “righteous and devout.” Well, I know I sought to live rightly toward my fellow man and to give God His proper place in my life. Although that was always my goal, I didn’t know if I succeeded. 

There was one thing special about me that I was, and am grateful for: God deigned to place His Holy Spirit upon me. Back then, God chose who He would give His Spirit to. Because of Him, I knew that during my life I would see the Messiah. In His way of speaking to a person inside their minds—I still can’t explain it—the Holy Spirit had revealed this to me.

And so it was that one day I felt prompted to go to the temple. It wasn’t just the thought I should go to the temple sometime today, but an urgent need to go right away. Of course, I used to go often, but this time it seemed very important. I know now that the Holy Spirit was leading, but at the time that was not obvious to me. I am so glad that I recognized the urgency and obeyed.

While I was there, I saw a poor young couple come in with their firstborn son to present Him to God. I knew they were poor not only by their dress but by the offering they brought, two turtledoves. People with any money brought a lamb. I knew something else about them, too. How did I know? Again, I can’t explain it, but in my heart and mind God let me know that this baby was His Salvation. The Messiah I had been waiting to see!

I walked up to them. Then. I. Took. Him. In. My. Arms. I held God in my sinful, human arms! I spoke to God, “It is enough. I can die at any time in peace because I have seen Your Salvation, just as You promised I would.”

At that moment, I knew I was filled with the Holy Spirit because I said things I could hardly believe. I knew they were not my own thoughts, but words God was giving me.  “Your Salvation is for the whole world. Gentiles will learn of Him and understand.” Yes! I said, “Gentiles.” Even though I had built in, cultural prejudices, I also knew the Bible talked about Israel being a blessing to all nations. Now I could see some of what God was doing. He was going to offer forgiveness of sins to non-Israelites as well as to us! And I didn’t stop there; I knew that the arrival of Messiah meant glory for Israel.

Mary and Joseph stood there amazed at what I said. Here was a stranger telling them about the significance of their Son, not only for Israel, but for the whole world! I’m pretty sure they were continually trying to grasp Who their Son was. The look on their faces compelled me to try to fortify them. But the Holy Spirit took over my words again as I spoke to Mary. “This Child,” I said, “Is going to cause division. Some will follow Him, but many will oppose Him, and your mother-heart will ache because of what your Son must endure.” 

I had no idea my words would be remembered, much less recorded for centuries on earth and for all time in the Word of God. I knew that this baby was God With Us, Emmanuel, but I thought this was a personal revelation that God had, in His extraordinary mercy, given me to know. It was the fruit of hours of prayer, reading, study, and meditation.

The years that I waited on earth for the promised sight of Him seemed so long at the time, but from the perspective of eternity they were just a blip in time. I’m ashamed of how faithless I was so many times, how often I pled with God for a sign or a further promise, which in His graciousness He would give me through the Scriptures. I was faithless. He was faithful.

It was a privilege to know I would see God’s plan in person. It was a delight to hold the Christ in my arms. It was an honor to have my words recorded in the Bible for all time. But it is my eternal joy to be the recipient of that salvation that came through Christ’s death on the cross and to live  forever in Heaven with Him.

Those who wait for the Lord
will gain new strength;
They will mount up with wings like eagles,
They will run and not get tired,
They will walk and not become weary.
Isaiah 40:31 

To read a first person account of Mary click here.

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Wednesday, December 13, 2017

A Family Christmas Pageant

The blond haired, brown eyed, twenty-two month old shepherd held onto his staff and looked serious as five year old "Mary" placed the doll in the box. Four year old "Joseph" bravely stood by her side, his pillowcase headpiece slightly askew. Three grown men with yellow construction paper crowns on their heads followed the star held at the end of a yardstick by Great Grandma to come and bow down before the baby, while a chorus of "angels" stood in the corner, silver pipe-cleaner halos on their head, singing praises to God.

Sounds pretty much like a typical Sunday School Christmas pageant, doesn't it? But this one was different. We were in our living room with our family on Christmas day. This was our devotions for the day and everyone was involved.

I wrote a simple, gospel filled "play" to narrate while the others acted it out. Since there were twenty of us, including six children five and under, there wasn't a lot of room to move, but we got enough actions in to make it fun. Although we had three babies under one, they were 11, 6 and 5 months so we used a doll to represent the baby Jesus. More important than having fun was the message we wanted everyone to remember. 

Here is the simple play I wrote. Maybe you can use it as one of the ways you keep Christ in your Christmas picture. If you don't have this many people, some can play multiple parts. We had everyone from twenty-two months to eighty-nine years involved, so no one has an excuse! (We gave copies to each person or "helper" for young ones. Speaking parts were whispered into children's ears.) Get creative: add carols at various places for everyone to sing!

Have a Merry, Christ-filled Christmas!

Our Family Christmas Pageant

Narrator: Me
ANGEL - Youngest Aunt
Extra Angels - Other Aunts
Mary - Oldest Granddaughter (helper Mommy)
Joseph - Oldest Grandson (helper Daddy)
SHEPHERD - Second Grandson (with helper an Aunt)
Extra Shepherds - Grandpa and Uncle
Wisemen (Kings) - Great Grandpa, Uncles
Star - Great Grandma 

Way back at the very beginning God made the earth and put everything on it and around it that people would need to live. Then He created people, a man and a woman. He only gave them one rule, but they broke that rule. That made God very sad because from then on all people would break his rules and they couldn’t be friends with God.

But God knew that would happen and He had a plan so that people could be His friends again. In order for people to be forgiven someone would have to be punished for breaking God’s rules. But the punishment was too hard. No one could pay it for anyone else and it would take forever, literally, to pay for themselves. 

So God’s plan was that He would take the punishment Himself for people. God the Son came to earth so that He could take the punishment and that is the exciting Christmas story:

One day an ANGEL appeared to a young woman named, Mary, and told her, “God has a special plan for you. You are going to have a baby that is God’s Son.” 

Mary didn’t understand how this could be. “But I can’t have a baby. I’m not married yet.”

But the ANGEL told her, “Don’t be afraid. God will do a miracle in you. Nothing is impossible with Him.” 

Mary said, “I will do whatever God wants me to do.”

When Joseph, the man Mary was engaged to, found out she was pregnant, he was upset. But God’s ANGEL came back and talked to him one night and told him, “Don’t be mad at Mary. God is doing this special thing through her to finish what He said he would do. You and Mary must name the baby, Jesus, because He will save His people from the punishment of their sins.” 

So Joseph agreed to marry her. “Ok. I’ll keep her.”

When the time came for the baby to be born, the king of the land had decided that everyone had to go back to their hometown so he could count them all and charge them more taxes. So Joseph and Mary had to travel to Bethlehem. By the time they got there all the hotels were full, so they had to stay in a stable! And that’s where Mary’s baby, Jesus, the Son of God was born!

God sent an ANGEL that night to tell some SHEPHERDS the great news. The SHEPHERDS were watching their sheep out in fields when suddenly an ANGEL stood in front of them and said, “Have I got the most amazing news for you! Today in that little town over there, the Savior has been born! You can go see him. He’s wrapped up in swaddling cloths and he’s sleeping in a manger!” Then hundreds of ANGELS appeared and and said, “Glory to God in the Highest! He is providing a way for men to have peace with Him and each other!”

The SHEPHERDS decided to go see the baby and found Jesus just like the angel had said. The SHEPHERDS were so excited they told everyone they saw about the baby Jesus and they praised God.

After Jesus was born some kings from other countries came to find him. The kings knew about him because they had seen his STAR in the east and had followed the STAR to find him. Eventually the STAR led them to Bethlehem and stood still right over the house where Jesus and his parents were living. The kings were so happy that the STAR had led them to Jesus and they bowed before Jesus and gave him presents.

Jesus grew up and eventually became a man who went around from town to town teaching people and making sick people better and blind people see. He told everyone about God and he taught his disciples about God’s plan for Him to pay the punishment for sins so everyone who believed could become friends with God.

God’s plan wasn’t easy for Jesus. It meant he had to die on a cross, a very painful way to die. But because Jesus is God, and He is eternal, and He never sinned, when He was punished it wasn’t for His own sins, but for the sins of the whole world. So Jesus was punished by God. He died. That was a very sad day for his mother and his disciples.

But it was sad because they didn’t understand that this was part of God’s plan and that the best part was still to come! Jesus didn’t stay dead! After He was dead for three days, He became alive again! After lots of people saw Him alive, He went back to heaven so that He could make it ready for all the people who believed that His death was punishment for their sins. Everyone who believes doesn’t have to be punished for their own sins. God took the punishment for each one of us.

And that is the wonderful story of why we celebrate Christmas.

*For more ideas on keeping the true meaning of Christmas click here.

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Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Keeping Christ in Your Christmas Picture

One year we watched a Christmas program at church in which a photographer and advertiser were getting a photoshoot ready for Christmas. They brought in a Baby Jesus, Joseph, and Mary. Then they decided it needed something more, so they added some barn animals--each played by some of the Sunday School kids. That wasn't enough so they called for shepherds, then angels, and a star. They didn't feel it was complete so added a Christmas tree, a candy cane, several large wrapped presents, some sugar cookies, a few carolers, and finally Santa. Looking at the tableau they decided they needed to take the Baby out. Then they declared it perfect and said, "Take the picture." Just then we heard a baby's plaintive cry.

Do you ever feel like that's what happens to your Christmas. The rush to make cookies, buy and wrap presents, attend parties, concerts, and events has taken Christ out of Christmas? I have felt that way at times. There have been times when the reading of Luke 2 has seemed like an obligatory part of the festivities to be gotten done with quickly so we can get to the "real" fun.

So I thought I'd share with you some of the ways we have been proactive in keeping Christ in our Christmas Season. Maybe some will work for you.

Our own Advent Calendar -- When my oldest son was three I cross stitched a ten day advent calendar with a passage to read each day, a Christmas carol to sing and a cross stitched figure to put up. As we got more kids we had to make sure every one got their fair turn at putting the figures onto the calendar. That was our devotions for the nine days before Christmas and Christmas day. I made one for that son's four children to use now. (I am way behind on something for my other grands!) But it doesn't have to be cross stitched. Just hiding a figure from a nativity scene in a small box for kids to open and reading a corresponding few verses can get the message out.

Traditions that Focus on Christ -- When we lived in Lima, Peru we started attending the Union Church's Christmas Eve service that always ended with everyone holding candles which we lit passing the flame to one another and then  singing Silent Night with the electric lights off. When we moved to Bogota, Colombia, the Union Church there performed the Messiah and we attended with small children (two, three, and seven years old). The British Ambassador's wife complimented us on their behavior! The church we worked in had an early Christmas Eve service at 5pm because Colombians all celebrated that evening. Later, our church quit doing that and the Union Church started a Christmas  Eve with the candlelit Silent Night.  These, along with attending the Christmas program at church were some of our favorite activities.

Non-traditional Giving -- We had our kids use their tithing money to give gifts to children who probably wouldn't have anything to open on Christmas. We would choose a family from church that we knew had needs (this was fairly easy to do in Latin America) and our kids would go shopping and pick out presents for each child. My husband and I would add to the fund so there was enough money and we also bought some food for them. If you don't live where you know needy people, there are always ways to help others. One idea is missionary friends of ours in Burundi, offer the possibility of buying "Living Gifts" to help provide a living for the African families around them. You can buy some chickens or a goat or two! There are many other ministries that offer ways to help those who don't have as much as we do.

Invite Friends to Christ Centered Events -- This will be the fourth year we take our next door neighbors to a Christmas concert at Emmaus Bible College. We always have pie afterwards so we can visit with them. We've been able to have some good conversations with them.

Host a Carol Sing -- Most years our brother-in-law does this. He has everyone bring snacks to share and we sing carols in his living room. What a great way to join with others to sing out God's praises!

Have Nativity Scenes -- I was grew up thinking that having a Nativity Scene was a "graven image". But when we were married and decorating for Christmas, I looked around at the tree, Santas, stockings, and candy canes and realized that I had something to represent everything but the real reason for Christmas. We decided to break with our tradition and buy one. We have added to our collection over the years from different places we have visited. Having a plastic or wooden scene that children can play with is a good idea. Some friends even have the wise men come closer each day from the farthest room to arrive after Christ is born. We don't pray to the figures, they simply serve as visual reminders of the reason for the season.

Reenact the Christmas Story -- if you have creative kids, maybe they'd like to come up with their own version of Christ's birth either as a play, a puppet show, songs, or a story. If not, you can help them act it out. For a simple script to read (no lines to memorize!) click here.

Play Games that Tell the Story -- play charades, pictionary, or even hangman with words from the Biblical Christmas story and the titles of carols. This was always a hit with our kids.

Personal Devotions -- Each year for several years now I have studied one of the persons in the Biblical story and then written a first person account of their part in the Christmas story. Here are links to my stories of Mary, Elizabeth, and my husband's account of Gabriel. This year I'm studying Simeon.

The gifts, lights, parties, and movies are lots of fun, but never let them take Christ out of the picture.

For more of my ideas on enjoying the season click here.
Some other ideas for keeping Christ in your Christmas.
And another idea from a fellow blogger for giving kindness is here.
More ideas for a simpler Christmas from another blogger here.

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