I finished my Christmas shopping before Thanksgiving this year — gifts wrapped and under the tree. My cards are done — complete with handwritten notes. My decorations have been up for weeks.

Now, in an ideal world, I’d be sitting back with my peppermint mocha enjoying all the sights, sounds, and smells of the season.

But wait … I just got a card from a friend I marked off my list years ago. And last week I had lunch with someone who came bearing gifts. We’ve never exchanged gifts before. Should I run out and buy a gift? Or does that make it even more obvious that I didn’t intend to get her anything? And while I was out running errands the other day I saw some decorations that would look great outside my house. I do need to add to my collection this year — all the neighbors did.

And then there’s that holiday baking I wanted to do. But I’m running out of time, so I’ll probably just pick something up at the bakery. I’m sure my friends will enjoy that more anyway. I’m not much of a cook.

Funny how it seems as if it’s never all done. I’m exhausted. I thought by getting ahead of the game I would eliminate the stress I experience every year when I focus on everything I think needs to be done —  and done perfectly, of course.

Maybe the real stressor isn’t the dozens of things I feel I need to do but, instead, why I choose to do those things. Do I send Christmas cards because I genuinely want to stay in touch with all those people? Or do I send cards because I feel an obligation to those who send cards to me? Do I give gifts because I want those special people in my life to know I think they are special? Does the gift have to be the “perfect” thing? Or can it be something that reminds me of my friend or a memory we share? And what about those decorations? Do I really care how I measure up to the neighbors?

This year I want the reason behind everything I do to be a reflection of Jesus. I want my Christmas cards to serve as a way to catch up with those I don’t talk to often but care deeply about. I want to give gifts out of love. I want to bake so that the important people in my life have something I took time to create just for them. I want to decorate because it makes me happy and makes my home welcoming to others.

Things don’t have to be perfect; they just have to be special. After all, the stable wasn’t perfect, but it was special because Jesus was there. I hope you have a wonderful Christmas, and I pray your holiday will be about those things that are closest to your heart.

Until next time,
Signe

Merry Christmas! You can probably blame the lack of activity around here on the fact that LifeWay empties out faster than you can say, “Ho ho ho” during the Christmas season.

We do, however, stay somewhat active on Twitter, so find us there!

The Navigator: @rickhowerton

Agonistes: @bcdaniel

Nomad: @chinavols

Philo: @philbdavis

Syeira: @vanderbiltwife

You can also follow Steve Gladen, the general editor of Small Group Life, or Pete Wilson, who was featured in the Canvas videos.

Giovanni's Madonna with Child

I think it’s probably only natural that this Christmas is different for me.

Not only I am too bogged down in newborn-ness to really decorate, bake, or buy presents, I’ve had a child this year.

Now when I reflect on the nativity on top of my china cabinet, I think a little differently. I consider how much pain Mary must have been in on her donkey, traveling many miles from Nazareth to Bethlehem (a quick Internet search says anywhere from 60 to 90 miles). I was so uncomfortable in my last weeks of pregnancy I could barely sit in my desk chair. I spent most of it on the couch watching movies and old Project Runway episodes. If she was having contractions, all the worse!

Now I am sure God could have given Mary a very easy labor if He wanted, and maybe He did, but why should we think it was any different than what we go through to give birth? She probably hurt tremendously. She certainly had no epidural. She was in a stinking stable! And can you imagine Joseph’s face as he had to cut the cord? Deliver the placenta?

Joseph and Mary were humans, and I think sometimes we forget that. And this year I can identify with Mary and look at the scene differently. Imagine her feelings of honor, excitement, pain, joy, and exhaustion all at the same time. And responsibility.

And then there was the Savior of the world, in her arms. Not just the joy of holding your own baby, whom you have carried in your belly for many months and felt kick and respond to your voice. The joy of holding in her arms her very own Savior.

I really, REALLY love the CD The Nativity Story: Sacred Songs. I would encourage you to go to iTunes or Amazon and at least get “The Virgin’s Lullaby” and this song, which has brought me to tears many times this season already.

Labor of Love (go listen here on Peterson’s own blog)
Andrew Peterson

It was not a silent night
There was blood on the ground
You could hear a woman cry
In the alleyways that night
On the streets of David’s town …

Originally posted December 13, 2008 on Vanderbilt Wife

Disclaimer: Stop now if you don’t want anyone messing up the Santa story for you (any more than Tim Allen already has). 

So how did I start not liking Santa in the first place?  Well, we made a decision pretty early on that we weren’t going to do the Santa Claus thing for most of the standard reasons I suppose: We didn’t want our kids confusing fact and fiction, we didn’t like God’s characteristics being passed on to Santa, we didn’t like Santa being more loved and appreciated at Christmas than Jesus, etc.  Typical homeschooling family in our circles.

While we didn’t see any negatives with this approach as far as our kids were concerned (they even got really good at not blowing things for other kids), we began to be concerned that there was a large part of the Christmas conversation that we weren’t being invited into and as a result we were missing opportunities to share our faith.  We had boycotted a lot of the cultural gathering points and found ourselves not even “in the world” at Christmastime.

It was while we were visiting a church of another denomination that I was first introduced to the real story behind Saint Nicholas.  Sure, I had heard about St. Nick but I had never really studied the history behind Nicholas, Pastor of the Church at Myra.  Now I’m not sure this movie is going to portray historical details accurately, but I am intrigued and will probably look it up.  Learning about the love that Nicholas had for Jesus and for doing his work not only gave me an opportunity to teach my kids about the true story of Santa Claus, but it allowed us to be a part of the Santa discussion with others.  Rather than avoiding “all-things-Santa” we became participants so that we could use Nicholas’ story as a cultural bridge to the Gospel.

Of course, there will be folks who choose to remain on different sides of this discussion, but I know that Christmas has become much more fun for us…and productive in Kingdom work!

As I sat in church Sunday morning, I relished in the beauty of the sanctuary. Poinsettias overflowed on the stage. Wreaths hung from the walls. Beautiful arrangements of candles and fresh magnolia leaves graced every windowsill. The chamber choir sang a glorious song recalling the words of Mary as she learned of the child in her womb:

“My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord,
and my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior,
because He has looked with favor
on the humble condition of His slave.
Surely, from now on all generations
will call me blessed,
because the Mighty One
has done great things for me,
and His name is holy.”   Luke 1:46-49, HCSB

It was easy, in that setting, with the first candle of the Advent wreath glowing, children singing, and sun streaming in the windows, to remember the birth of our Christ. I couldn’t help but think that if I could just camp out in the sanctuary for the next four weeks, I could truly worship. I could be with Jesus all day long, praising God for sending His Son, singing to Him.

But we all know that’s not an option. Our struggle, always, with faith is moving it out into the everyday. Into brushing your teeth, changing your kids’ dirty diapers, and burning dinner.

A wise campus minister once told us that Quakers have prayers for everything they do. Showering, cooking, gardening–everything was deemed sacred and devoted to God. What a blessing, to have such a focused mind.

This Christmas season, I pray for focus. In the car every morning, I try to spend time in prayer, thanking God for His gift. While it may not matter that I don’t have a tree, don’t have any lights up, don’t even have a nativity other than the Fisher-Price version, it would matter if I forgot why we celebrate these weeks in December.

How do you make the season sacred?

It’s Christmas. Shouldn’t Jesus get top billing? Check out the word “Christmas” one more time… Christ-mas. The first syllable of the term we use to describe the season is the name above all names, the name…

…through which we are adopted by God Himself… Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— John 1:12

…that eliminates all others when chasing after eternal life… Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved. Acts 4:12

…through which we experience life in all its fullness, joy, and peace… But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. John 20:31

…that reminds us that He is our Lord… Nevertheless, God’s solid foundation stands firm, sealed with this inscription: “The Lord knows those who are his,” and, “Everyone who confesses the name of the Lord must turn away from wickedness.” 2 Tim. 2:19

The season of advent has been replaced with football season and basketball season. And every season is tied to the names that are most prevalent during that season. This Christmas season, Tebow and Calipari are names that come up often when group members get together. Twitter is flooded with less than 140 characters proclaiming the birth of the latest superstar running back (Mark Ingram of Alabama sure comes to mind.) or disclosing the name above all names in the world of golf…Tiger.

Let me prove my point. If your group gets together this week mention the game of golf and see how quickly a discussion ensues about Tiger Woods. At some other point, prior to or after the formal meeting time, mention Christmas and see if the conversation turns to Jesus.

Just sayin’…

The celebration of Jesus’ birth is almost here. Your small group may have decided to take a break beginning a few weeks from now or you may be spending Christmas day together. If you’re like me, you may want to take a one week break from the study your group is involved in so that you can focus on some part of the birth of Jesus. Also… If you’re like me you don’t want to purchase an entire study for just one small group experience. Below you’ll find questions for a small group experience taken from the Serendipity Bible for Groups produced by Lyman Coleman.  I think you’ll find it will create healthy, life tranforming conversation.

Ice-Breaker: When does your Christmas tree go up? Who trims it? How? What other traditions do you observe from your childhood? 

Read Luke 2:8 – 20 

Bible Discussion: 1. Of all the people the angels could have visited, why do you suppose God sent them to the shepherds? How does that relate to Mary’s song (Luke 1: 46 – 55)? 2. What three titles are given to Jesus in verse 11? What is significant about them? 3. What do you treasure the most about Jesus?

 Going Deeper: 1. God appeared to Zechariah, Mary, and the shepherds when they were just being themselves. What does that imply about what it means to be “spiritual”? How has God spoken to you in the ordinary flow of life? 2. What precious event has God done that you “treasure in your heart”?

 In case you haven’t heard of the Serendipity Bible for Groups… The Serendipity Bible for groups has a Bible study like the one above for every passage of Scripture in the Bible.